The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which has passed both the Senate and the House, includes important provisions to mitigate the sharp economic decline already unfolding. But policymakers’ efforts should not end with this bill. They will need to do substantially more in subsequent bills to address urgent needs in areas like health coverage, food assistance for struggling families, and state fiscal relief.
The AFL-CIO did an extensive review of the CARES Act and came up with the following wins, losses and further actions needed for working people.
- UI Expansion. The CARES Act provides $250 billion to expand the unemployment insurance (UI) system, including a $600 increase in weekly benefit checks for four months; temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits for the selfemployed, quarantined and sick workers, and other workers ineligible for state UI (including many in leisure and hospitality); 13 weeks of extended benefits; and funding for states to waive the waiting week before workers can collect benefits.
- Airline Provisions. H.R. 748 provides $61 billion for the airline sector, including $25 billion in grants and $25 billion in loans to passenger airlines, $4 billion in grants and $4 billion in loans to cargo airlines, and $3 billion in grants to contractors. Grant money can only be used to pay worker wages and benefits; grant recipients cannot cut pay or furlough workers until September 30; and the federal government cannot condition grants or loans on the renegotiation of collective bargaining agreements.
- Mass Transit and Amtrak. The bill includes $25 billion in operating assistance for mass transit and $1 billion that will help keep Amtrak workers employed.
- Hospitals. The CARES Act creates a $100 billion fund to reimburse healthcare providers for expenses or lost revenue attributable to the coronavirus and a $27 billion fund for coronavirus preparation and response, and increases Medicare payments to hospitals by 20% to treat Medicare patients with the virus.
- No Emergency Temporary OSHA Standard or increase in OSHA inspectors. The agency charged with ensuring that employers maintain a safe workplace has been absent in workplaces during this crisis.
- Nothing to expand paid sick days. The previous Coronavirus bill left out workers at small and large businesses, health care workers, and first responders, and H.R. 748 does not fill those gaps.
- Immigrants. H.R. 748 fails to ensure access to testing, treatment, and benefits for immigrant workers. Key provisions of the House bill were omitted—provisions that would eliminate immigrant restrictions for emergency Medicaid testing and treatment; auto-extend work permits for DACA and TPS-holders; and make all taxpayers eligible for individual payments, including those who file with a tax identification number.
- Nothing on supporting workers’ pensions. Sen. McConnell objected to the inclusion of any pension provisions.
FURTHER ACTION NEEDED
- State and Local Government Assistance. The CARES Act includes $150 billion in assistance for state and local governments, but this money can be used only for unbudgeted COVID-19 response and not to make up for falling tax revenues. The next COVID-19 bill will have to do much more, including a further increase in the federal share of Medicaid costs.
- Education. The bill includes $31 billion to support local school systems, split between K12 and higher education, but another $20 to $40 billion will be necessary.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). H.R. 748 includes $16 billion to replenish the Strategic National Stockpile with PPE, but funding to buy unavailable equipment is not a solution. Workers are unprotected at work right now, and PPE must go directly to them, not to a stockpile. While the bill minimally funds the Defense Production Act (DPA) with $1 billion, we are calling on the administration to use its authority under the DPA to compel private industry to ramp up production of PPE and coordinate, direct and allocate the distribution of PPE according to need.
- U.S. Postal Service. USPS urgently needs financial relief to continue operating through 2020, but the bill only includes a $10 billion line of credit.