Congress just passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (H.R. 748), a third bill responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
What’s in the bill? Below is an evaluation of how the $2.2 trillion package measures up with FCNL’s policy recommendations and our recommendations for what is shaping up to be a fourth COVID-19 package.
Full federal Medicaid funding for states.
While some funding was included in the second bill—the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R.6201)—it wasn’t nearly enough to cover the spike in need. States are prohibited from running budget deficits. Without federal assistance, when faced with increased demand for services and lower tax revenues, they are forced to cut the assistance people need most right now.
Included? Partly. The CARES Act provides $150 billion in assistance to states. None of this is specifically allocated for Medicaid, and more is desperately needed.
Direct cash assistance for low- and moderate-income individuals.
These checks must be fully refundable so that struggling individuals without any income can still claim the credit.
Included? Yes. The CARES Act includes recovery rebates of $1200 per individual ($2400 per couple) and $500 per child. People with very low and no income can claim the credit. However, if you didn’t file a tax return, you must file an amended return to claim the credit.
Expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to include more low-income households as a step to effectively boost the economy.
Included? No. The CARES Act amends the 2017 tax cut law to benefit restaurant owners, but it omitted similar assistance for restaurant workers by failing to fix the EITC and CTC, which leaves out millions of low-income individuals and families.
This would allow businesses to cut hours and provide employees with additional compensation via unemployment insurance instead of implementing layoffs.
Included? Yes. The CARES Act provides funding to help states administer, improve, and enact work sharing programs.
Homelessness assistance funding.
The second bill (H.R. 6201) included no provisions to assist people facing homelessness. Individuals experiencing homelessness are at increased risk of serious infection because they cannot self-quarantine and often lack access to running water and other methods to prevent infection.
Included? Partly. The CARES Act provides $7 billion for affordable housing and homelessness assistance programs. However, this amount is insufficient. More is needed.
Increased nutrition assistance for all families receiving SNAP to effectively stimulate the economy and reduce hunger.
The previous bill (H.R. 6201) provided only limited nutrition assistance, and more is needed.
Included? No. This was completely left out of the bill. It must be a top priority for the fourth bill.
Free access to testing and treatment for incarcerated individuals.
Incarcerated individuals are at particular risk of COVID-19. Ensuring free access to testing, treatment, and sanitary conditions is imperative.
Included? No. The CARES Act provides $100 million for the Federal Bureau of Prisons to respond to COVID-19 for things like personal protective equipment, other medical equipment, overtime, and cleaning for facilities. It also gives the director of the Bureau of Prisons more authority to release prisoners to home confinement and provide an alternative to keeping certain inmates in prison facilities.
Expanded and modernized Unemployment Insurance
UI must be expanded to provide higher benefits, account for the changing workforce (such as the gig economy), and cover workers who may lose their jobs or face new caregiving responsibilities due to the virus.
Included? Yes. The CARES Act establishes a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA), available to people who have exhausted their state unemployment insurance or who do not qualify for the traditional state unemployment insurance (such as self-employed or gig economy workers). However, the PUA is available only until December 31, 2020.
The CARES Act establishes a Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program (PUC), which provides an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits. This is available through July 31.
Funding is needed to keep childcare centers in business and support educators if parents unenroll their children or cannot pay their childcare bills.
Included? Partly. The CARES Act provides $3.5 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant, but much more is needed.
Health Response for the Uninsured
Funding is needed for tests, treatment, and quarantine so that those without health insurance can access them. No one should have to worry about the costs of testing and treatment.
Included? No. While the second package (H.R. 6201) included funding for testing, individuals without health insurance still do not have coverage or access to treatment for COVID-19.
Conclusion: CARES Act is a crucial step. More will be needed.
The CARES Act includes several key priorities, but others were left out. The magnitude of the public health crisis and the expected depth of the economic impact mean that Congress is already talking about a fourth COVID-19 bill.
We are urging Congress to include:
- Boost SNAP benefits by 15% for all SNAP households.
- Expand access to health care coverage and COVID-19 treatment for the uninsured and incarcerated individuals.
- Give more federal assistance to states by fully funding all state Medicaid costs.
- Provide more homelessness assistance.
- Provide more child-care assistance.
- Fix the gaps in the EITC and Child Tax Credit for adults not raising children and the 26 million children whose parents don’t earn enough money to claim the full value of the Child Tax Credit.
Members of Congress and their staff are starting to construct the fourth package. Now is the time to weigh in.