HEROES Act Supports States, Cities, and Many People Overlooked by Early Relief Bills—Yet More Funds Still Needed

The following statement can be attributed to Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

Washington, DC, May 13, 2020--Yesterday, House Democrats unveiled the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (the HEROES Act) to fund urgent public health priorities and get much-needed financial support to states, localities, and many individuals and families. While there remain sizeable gaps between the response and the enormous nationwide need, the bill takes crucial steps to respond to all, reflecting that everybody must be healthy, safe, and on a path to economic recovery if the nation is to come through this crisis.

The House should pass this critical package. This legislation is urgently needed to address a devastating crisis of illness and death, record unemployment that’s left behind countless people facing widespread hardship and need, and caused disproportionate damage to communities of color that were navigating racism and other historic barriers to health and economic security prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill responds at a significant level to this overwhelming need by filling in the enormous omissions of the previous federal response that left out millions of individuals and families from getting needed services and economic supports.

The HEROES Act:

  • Ensures that all workers will have access to the paid sick days and paid family and medical leave provisions established in the earlier Families First Coronavirus Response Act by remedying carve-outs that excluded millions of workers, primarily those earning low wages who are predominantly women, people of color, and immigrants. These protections are crucial to workers’ health and economic security—and they undergird the nation’s ability to protect public health while also reopening the economy safely.
  • Gets cash assistance to families by extending enhanced unemployment benefits set to expire this summer and creating a new round of emergency stimulus payments.
  • Recognizes that all families need this economic help, by fixing provisions in the previous Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that excluded millions of people, including almost 4 million U.S. citizen children. Under the HEROES Act, everyone who files tax returns would be eligible for the emergency stimulus payments, whether they or a member of their household use a Social Security Number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
  • Ensures the health of our communities by investing in expanded capacity for nationwide testing and contact tracing and by creating pathways for everyone—regardless of immigration status—to receive treatment and testing without out-of-pocket costs.
  • Expands nutrition assistance, including for young children, to address the crisis in food insecurity that’s affecting the nearly one in five households reporting that children sometimes didn't eat enough because they couldn't afford food. Among other provisions, the act includes a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits to help people put food on the table at a time of record unemployment.
  • Provides critical state and fiscal relief to maintain services essential to public health and to prevent a dramatic shortfall in state budgets. This includes a higher federal reimbursement rate for Medicaid, which is critical for both sustaining health coverage and supporting state budgets in this pandemic. Without these resources, states will likely be forced to lay off workers—compounding the economic devastation—and cut crucial supports, such as health care and postsecondary education, for families with low incomes.

Despite many very strong provisions, the HEROES Act falls short in other areas, providing far fewer resources than needed to support workers with low incomes now and during the months or years until the economy recovers. The Act would provide $7 billion for child care, which according to CLASP analysis, is less than a month’s worth of funding needed to provide emergency child care for essential workers and sustain the child care industry to ensure its viability in an economic recovery.

While the HEROES Act will provide temporary relief for many who are suffering during this pandemic, these investments simply aren't sufficient to address the record unemployment and the magnitude of mental health needs for everyone, particularly among people of color whom Congress must not leave behind. It also falls short in funding for postsecondary education and workforce development, which will be needed to address the enormous job loss from the economic crisis. Such investments are critical to prevent today's pandemic from turning into a lifetime of lost opportunities for those who were facing inequities in access to economic opportunity before the current crisis—including youth and young adults, immigrant families, people impacted by the criminal justice system, and communities of color.

Given the urgency of the crisis today, it is crucial that the House move forward to pass this package and that the Senate follow swiftly. Beyond this important down payment, however, Congress must continue to respond to today’s unprecedented crisis with the comprehensive investments needed for a full economic recovery and to undo the pandemic’s widespread harm as well as the historic and systemic barriers to health and economic opportunities for communities of color.