Coronavirus Relief Bill: What Congress Left Out

President Trump signed the $2 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package (officially known as The CARES Act) into law last week. The package contains a number of provisions including enhanced unemployment insurance, direct cash payments to adults and families, support for major industries and forgivable loans for small businesses, and aid to state and local governments. The measure was the 3rd bill passed by Congress (and by far the largest) in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. But given the scale of the devastation, and the unknown timeframe of the recovery, many stakeholders are already suggesting additional congressional action will be needed. As such, Spotlight is reaching out to experts from across the political spectrum to ask what was left out of or underfunded in The CARES Act, and what Congress should prioritize in any future legislation. Check back frequently as we continue to update the page with new thinkers and perspectives.

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A Good Start but Not Enough: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The CARES Act included important provisions to mitigate the sharp economic decline, but policymakers’ efforts must not end with this bill.

Congress should now work to: expand access to health coverage; increase SNAP assistance to help families put food on the table; provide additional relief for states so layoffs and other cuts don’t worsen the economic crisis; and help those struggling to pay rent and provide more support for people experiencing homelessness.

Childcare Was Severely Underfunded: Thea Lee, President of the Economic Policy Institute

Increased support for childcare, more support for vulnerable immigrant workers, and key provisions (such as the extension of unemployment insurance) shouldn’t be one-time payments but rather be contingent on the state of the economy and state of the labor market. It’s really important that these kinds of support and aid are continued as long as needed and we don’t make the same mistake we did in 2009 of withdrawing support too soon.

Ensure Americans Aren’t Losing Access to the Social Safety Net: Angela Rachidi, Rowe Scholar of Poverty Studies at the American Enterprise Institute

Congress should have temporarily exempted unemployment insurance income from determining ongoing eligibility for SNAP and Medicaid. Without exempting UI income, some SNAP and Medicaid recipients might become ineligible due to the UI benefit increase. Congress should also have temporarily funded the continuation of employer-provided health insurance for workers who apply for UI. Workers with employer-provided health insurance will lose coverage when they go off payroll. Congress also should have issued an emergency EITC to immediately supplement the incomes of low-income families with children.

Need Substantial, Sustained, and Structural Investment: Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Co-Executive Director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty & Inequality

The Federal response to COVID-19 has fallen short of being adequately Substantial, Sustained, and Structural--as well as inclusive and automatically responsive to need. Recovery Rebates are merely one-time; needlessly require millions of people with low incomes to file federal income taxes; and fail to reach dependents 17 or older, many non-citizen adults, and many citizen children. Childcare funding is an order of magnitude too small to preserve this core part of our social infrastructure, while narrow and temporary paid sick and family and medical leave provisions fail to reflect the ongoing caregiving needs of millions of people. The complete absence of funding increases for SNAP benefits and TANF (which includes our nation's primary cash assistance program) is indefensible, as is the failure to allow SNAP to be used widely for food delivery.

States Need Greater Fiscal Aid: Samuel Hammond, Director of Poverty and Welfare Policy at the Niskanen Center

- The CARES Act should have provided much more unconditional fiscal aid to state governments. With business closures and skyrocketing unemployment, state tax revenues are poised to collapse. Without windfall levels of federal aid, state and local governments will soon be forced to choose between austerity and insolvency. The relief that did pass, meanwhile, is restricted to costs directly related to COVID-19.

- The CARES Act should have done much more to make Recovery Rebates automatic, rather than something one has to file a tax return to receive. It is within the technical capabilities of the IRS to match individuals in other federal and state databases, but they are instead requiring millions of low-income Americans to file a tax return — at exactly the same time tax prep locations are closed for quarantines. 

- The CARES Act should have temporarily expanded SNAP. Low-income households are the most likely to miss out on Recovery Rebates, or to have their check significantly delayed. In contrast, loading an  EBT cards with additional cash is fast and easy, and known to be a highly effective fiscal stimulus. 

- The Payment Protection Program within the SBA should have been much larger, perhaps even uncapped. As it stands, many businesses will be forced to lay-off workers and close shop. Expanded unemployment insurance will help, but it can't replace employee benefits like health care coverage, nor the benefit of having an employer to return to once quarantines are lifted. The recovery, whenever it comes, will be much slower as a result.

Women and Families Need Greater Relief: Melissa Boteach, Vice President for Income Security and Child Care/Early Learning at the National Women’s Law Center

Women predominate the frontline jobs that are essential during this crisis and cannot be done remotely -- jobs such as hospital workers, home care and child care workers, grocery store cashiers, and delivery service people. Women are also overrepresented in many of the sectors -- including hospitality work, restaurant work, and other service sectors -- that are already seeing massive layoffs. COVID-19 relief in recent legislation is an important down payment, but provides only a fraction of what women and families need. Congress must prioritize more investments in comprehensive and affordable healthcare for all, including immigrants who are currently ineligible; expand paid sick time and paid family and medical leave to protect all families; and provide health and safety protections for frontline workers, the vast majority of whom are women. Women and families need relief now, including increasing nutrition assistance so families can put food on the table through the whole month; expanding housing assistance, especially for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their families, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities; and providing cash assistance to people left out of the CARES Act tax rebate, including many immigrant families, disabled dependents, foster children and young adults, and families with low incomes who have not filed tax returns. Importantly, Congress must provide $50 billion to stabilize the child care sector and ensure child care providers have the tools and support they need to provide care during this pandemic.