- Economic Justice
Congress Passed Another COVID-19 Package: What Just Happened?
Congress passed another bill to blunt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on April 23. Unlike the prior bills that Congress passed, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 266) is very limited. It includes $484 billion in funding to replenish the small business loan program, hospitals, and COVID-19 testing.
Of the $321 billion in funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, an initiative designed to help small businesses keep employees on payroll, $60 billion is dedicated to smaller lenders and underbanked businesses. The remaining funds allocated include $75 billion for hospitals and health care facilities, $50 billion for economic disaster assistance, and $25 billion for additional COVID-19 testing.
While this funding will help, Congress missed yet another opportunity to include funding for key programs that reduce poverty and stimulate the economy. This bill failed to include any additional federal funds for Medicaid or additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Without additional federal assistance to state governments to fund programs like Medicaid, states facing increased demand for services and lower tax revenues will be forced to cut assistance people need right now. After accounting for aid that’s already been provided and rainy day funds, states could face shortfalls of $360 billion – and this doesn’t include any additional new costs caused by COVID-19. Congress should fully cover states’ Medicaid expenses and provide additional funding for states to meet this increased need.
While some funding for SNAP was included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), it failed to meet the sharp increase in need caused by the economic fallout of COVID-19. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is only allowing states to boost emergency SNAP benefits up to, but not above, the maximum benefit for each household. This is troublesome, because households that receive the maximum benefit make up almost 40 percent of all households receiving SNAP benefits.
SNAP is America’s largest and most effective anti-hunger program. It helps millions of families put food on the table. In order to ensure people have enough support to get through these difficult times, we’re advocating for Congress to increase the maximum SNAP benefit by 15 percent, increase the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30, and suspend all administrative rule changes that make it harder to qualify for the program.
Congress is already negotiating another, more comprehensive package to address additional needs that weren’t included in this interim bill. However, Republican leadership is raising concern about the impact of future bills on the national debt and are suggesting that additional economic relief packages should wait. We cannot afford to delay. Millions of vulnerable Americans are already struggling to make ends meet. We need additional help sooner, not later, to ensure that even more people don’t face hardship.
Act now: urge your members of Congress to make sure priorities like additional funding for SNAP benefits and state governments are included in the next COVID-19 package.