HEROES Act COVID-19 Relief Bill Clears House

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On May 15, the House of Representatives passed a massive $3 trillion dollar coronavirus relief bill along a party line vote. This fourth piece of pandemic response legislation is a Democratic marker bill for further negotiations with the Administration and Senate Republicans over another coronavirus spending package.

House Republicans object to the bill’s costs and a host of measures that they say are unrelated to the pandemic. In addition, they have raised objections to the bill’s $1 trillion in funding for state and local governments and its six-month extension of enhanced unemployment benefits. Among other things, the nearly 2000-page “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act” would:

General Farm Operations

  • $10 billion for small businesses that did not receive Paycheck Protection Program funds
  • $20 million to strengthen activities and services that connect farmers/ranchers to stress assistance resources and programs plus $28 million as block grants to state departments of agriculture to support existing farm stress programs Specialty Crops
  • $16.5 billion for direct payments to agricultural producers
  • $50 million of additional funding to support local farmers, farmers markets, and other local food outlets; waiving matching requirements for additional funds
  • $50 million for beginning farmers/ranchers with support for financial, operational, and marketing advice; waives matching requirements
  • Provide an additional $16.5 billion in direct payments to agricultural producers. Also, provide $50 million in assistance to farmers, farmers markets and local food outlets affected by market disruptions, and $50 million to beginning farmers and ranchers.
  • Provide $100 million for specialty crop supply chain issues at the state level through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program; waives state matching requirements
  • Provide temporary protections to unauthorized workers in essential critical infrastructure industries (including agriculture) as defined by DHS-issued guidance, during the COVID-19 emergency. These workers would be considered to be in a period of deferred action and to be authorized for employment. Also, employers are shielded from certain immigration-related violations for these workers.
  • Extend for the duration of the public health emergency temporary immigration status or work authorizations that are set to expire during the emergency.
  • Establish a $200 billion “Heroes’ Fund” for essential workers. Under the program employers would be able to apply for grants to provide $13 per hour premium pay for their workers on top of regular wages. Employers would be eligible for grants of $10,000 per worker, or $5,000 for highly compensated essential workers.
  • Define essential workers to include:
    • Health care sector workers;
    • Emergency response workers;
    • Sanitation workers;
    • Workers at businesses which state or local officials have determined must stay open to serve the public during the COVID-19 emergency; and
    • Any other worker who cannot telework and who the State or local government deems to be essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Provide a $500 above-the-line deduction for 2020 for the uniforms, supplies, and equipment of first responders and COVID-19 front-line employees. COVID-19 front-line employees are those that perform at least 1,000 hours of essential work.
  • Provide a 30% refundable payroll tax credit for expenses reimbursed or paid for the benefit of an employee for reasonable and necessary personal, family, living, or funeral expenses incurred as a result of the presidentially declared disaster-related to COVID-19.
  • Increase the applicable percentage of qualified wages reimbursed through the employee retention credit from 50% to 80% and increases the limit on wages taken into account per employee from $10,000 for the year to $15,000 per quarter (limited to $45,000 for the calendar year).
  • Provide a 50% refundable payroll tax credit for qualified fixed costs for businesses with less than 1,500 employees and no more than $41,500,000 in gross receipts in 2019 for expenses including rent obligations, covered mortgage obligations, and covered utility payments. For each quarter, qualified expenses eligible for this credit are limited to 25% of qualified wages (as defined in the employee retention credit) or 6.25% of 2019 gross receipts (which annualizes to 25%), with a maximum of $50,000.
  • Provide a 90% refundable individual income tax credit for certain self-employed individuals who have experienced a significant loss of income. The credit phases out starting at $60,000 of adjusted gross income ($120,000 for married filing jointly) at a rate of $50 for every $100 of income.
  • Extend the refundable payroll tax credits for paid sick and family leave, enacted in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, through the end of 2021.
  • Allow businesses receiving Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness to defer payment of payroll taxes under Section 2302 of the CARES Act.
  • Provide $500 billion in direct assistance to state governments, local, territorial, and tribal governments to address the fiscal impacts of the pandemic.
  • Provide $850 million for states to provide child and family care for essential workers.
  • Provide $3.1 billion for the Department of Labor to support workforce training and worker protection activities related to coronavirus, including:
    • $2 billion for worker training;
    • $25 million for migrant and seasonal farmworkers;
    • $100 million for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for workplace protection and enforcement activities in response to coronavirus; and,
    • $6.5 million for the Wage and Hour Division to support enforcement and outreach activities for paid leave benefits.
  • Prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for reporting or publicizing health and safety hazards, or for using their own more protective personal protective equipment if not provided by the employer.
  • Provide $10 billion in additional funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as additional funding host of other emergency food assistance programs.
  • Extend the CARES Act $600-per-week boost in unemployment insurance until January 2021.
  • Provide an additional $75 billion for coronavirus testing, contact tracing, and isolation measures.
  • Ensure that all Americans could receive free coronavirus treatment.
  • Provide $100 billion in emergency assistance to low-income renters to help them avoid eviction.
  • Provide $75 billion to states, territories, and tribes to help homeowners with direct assistance with mortgage payments and other housing costs.
  • Provide a one-time direct payment to taxpayers (including non-citizens with a TIN) of up to $1,200 per person. Families could also receive $1,200 for up to three qualified dependents or up to $6,000.
  • Provide $25 million in emergency funding for the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Provide $3.6 billion in grants to states for planning and preparation of elections, as well as to bolster election security.
  • Provide $15 billion for state transportation departments for highway needs and $16 billion to mass transit systems hit by a massive drop-off of ridership and lower income from fares.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled that the Senate is in no hurry to take up another pandemic response bill, preferring to give more time for the provisions of the prior bills to have an effect. Serious work on a Senate version is not expected before June. We are monitoring negotiations related to another response package and will keep you updated.

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