STATEMENT: U.S. Senate Republicans’ Pandemic Relief Proposal Is an Inadequate Response to the Current Crisis

Jeff Garis |

STATEMENT: U.S. Senate Republicans’ Pandemic Relief Proposal Is an Inadequate Response to the Current Crisis and Insufficient to Assist Pennsylvania in Moving Toward a Just Recovery

HARRISBURG – Following United States Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s introduction of the proposed COVID-19 relief package, the HEALS Act, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center director, Marc Stier, released the following response.

“After months of inaction, and with the previously enacted enhanced unemployment protections set to expire this week, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today unveiled the HEALS Act, a package that offers insufficient relief for those most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The legislation that McConnell plans to advance falls far short in scale, scope, and priorities, offering an inadequate response to the unprecedented public health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19. It provides no support for state and local budgets hit hard by the economic crisis and drastically cuts the unemployment insurance benefits that have protected those who have lost their jobs and that has helped the country avoid an even greater economic collapse.

“A glaring deficiency in the McConnell plan is the absence of substantial fiscal aid to state and local governments, which face massive challenges in funding essential services—education, health care, public safety, and more—as a result of steep declines in revenue that began in March and will continue well into 2021. As Pennsylvania House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody noted last Wednesday in a press conference hosted by PBPC, ‘We passed a five-month budget that will end in November, and we will likely be facing a well over $5 billion deficit. If states like PA don’t get meaningful help from the federal government, we could be forced to make unprecedented cuts where they hurt the most, like Medicaid.’ While the U.S. Senate Republicans’ proposed package would allow state and local governments more flexibility in using CARES Act funding to offset revenue losses, those funds are only available through the end of December and, with more than 60 percent of the CARES Act money already committed to immediate COVID-19 relief, are insufficient to prevent state and local leaders from being forced to consider drastic cuts to vital programs—including health care—and lay-offs of government-funded workers. Diminishing access to health care during a pandemic and increasing unemployment in the midst of an economic recession will ultimately affect every business in the state and only prolong and worsen the current crisis.

“The COVID relief package presented by Senator McConnell would also sharply reduce desperately needed support for Pennsylvania workers who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. The McConnell plan would immediately cut the increased weekly unemployment assistance implemented in the CARES by more than two-thirds, taking away $400 of the expanded weekly payment from struggling Pennsylvanians. Last week, PBPC released a report in conjunction with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities which found that ‘a large and growing number of Pennsylvania households are struggling to afford food and that hundreds of thousands of households are behind on rent.’ The paper revealed that earlier this month, nearly one million Pennsylvania adults reported that their households did not have enough to eat during the previous week, including more than half a million households with children. With the increasing hardships Pennsylvanians face, a proposal to significantly cut support for families that have lost income is not merely economically counter-productive, it is an act of cruelty.

“PBPC calls on Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey to reject this inadequate and offensive proposal and, instead, insist on a genuine relief and recovery package that is robust and expansive enough to respond to the enormous and unprecedented challenges we now face. A true relief and recovery plan should include

  • at least $1 trillion in fiscal aid to state and local governments, with a significant increase in FMAP so that Pennsylvania can adequately fund Medicaid coverage for the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who lost their employer-based health care when they lost their jobs.
  • an immediate extension of unemployment protections at previously-enacted levels or higher.
  • a 15-percent SNAP benefit increase for all SNAP households, which would provide roughly $100 per month more to a family of four.”

View and download a copy of the report “More Relief Needed to Alleviate Hardship in Pennsylvania” which was released on Wednesday, July 22, by PBPC.

Additional information and quotes from policy experts, House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, and Pennsylvanians from various regions of the state who have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis can be found in the media release from the press conference call PBPC hosted on Wednesday, July 22, along with an audio recording of the event.

CONTACT: Erica Freeman, freeman@pennbpc.org

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