By a narrow 214-207 margin, House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill on Thursday called the HEROES Act, 2.0, essentially a slimmer version of the $3 trillion HEROES Act that was passed in May and blocked by Republicans due to the cost.
The new measure includes another $50 billion in provider relief funds and improvements to Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) funding. It aims to address hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by including a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks and extended $600 weekly unemployment benefits, as well as emergency funds for state and local governments totaling $436 billion.
On top of that, it allocates $225 billion for schools and childcare and Paycheck Protection Program funding. It also includes assistance for airlines and the restaurant industry.
Also included is a $100-per-month increase in SNAP benefits in most states, rental assistance and an Affordable Care Act premium subsidy. That means those who have lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic would be eligible for the maximum health insurance premium subsidy under the ACA, a $1,386 benefit.
The bill passed the House despite opposition from 18 Congressional Democrats.
Ultimate passage seems unlikely, however. Newsweek reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled doom for the new package in the Senate, with Republicans in favor of a much smaller, $500 billion package. That's about half of the $1 trillion they had proposed for their HEALS Act legislation.
WHY THIS MATTERS
The bill matters to hospitals, especially those caring for a large share of Medicaid patients.
"With the addition of $50 billion in Provider Relief Fund aid and improvements to Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) funding, this bill would help ease the heavy financial pressures our hospitals face. We also welcome the bill's recognition of the need to account for race, ethnicity, gender, and other demographic data to reduce persistent disparities in health, such as those amplified by the pandemic," Beth Feldpush, senior vice president of policy and advocacy for America's Essential Hospitals said.
Pelosi has spent the week trying to negotiate an agreement with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the main GOP negotiator, and according to Politico the two are still in talks, with some hope that a deal could be reached today. Today is the final day the House is slated to be in Washington before returning home to campaign for the upcoming election, though Democratic leaders said they would keep lawmakers at the Capitol through the weekend if a deal is close to fruition.
McConnel has signaled little hope for a new deal.
THE LARGER TREND
A legislative relief package passed the House in May, but at an estimated cost of $3.5 trillion, the original HEROES Act got nowhere in the Senate. That bill also proposed providing subsidies for laid-off workers to remain on their employer-provided health insurance plans through COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act that extends benefits, and would have created an open enrollment period for plans under the Affordable Care Act.
Other relief has been in the form of regulatory measures, the biggest being the flexibility to use telehealth.
ON THE RECORD
"In a family of four, this is a lifeline for workers and families who are facing this coronavirus disaster," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a floor speech on Thursday. "For a family of four earning $24,000, Heroes 2 would mean direct payments, a $3,400 direct payment; unemployment benefits, $600 per week enhanced UI benefits; tax credits, up to $5,920 through the EITC and a fully refundable $4,000 (Child) Tax Credit, equaling additional $1,200 in refunds."