On Monday, Senate Republicans introduced the Heath, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act, the next round of pandemic relief meant to ease the burden of various measures meant to slow the spread of the disease.
For the most part, the HEALS Act resembles the previous round of stimulus, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. However, it's what has been added, specifically funds for the construction of new headquarters for the FBI that has raised some lawmaker's eyebrows. (Related: New CARES Act only cares about big corporations – local restaurants walk away with NOTHING.)
As with the CARES Act, the HEALS Act will include $1,200 in direct payments to Americans. In addition, the income thresholds will remain the same as well. Individuals whose most recent tax return shows an adjusted gross income of $75,000 and below will receive the full $1,200, while those with an income over $99,000 won't receive anything.
Meanwhile, the bill also continues federal unemployment insurance, albeit at a lot less than with the CARES Act. It also continues the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan package that encourages businesses to retain workers.
The new bill also seeks to fix problems with its predecessor. The CARES Act was supposed to give people $500 in stimulus money for each dependent they claimed on their taxes for 2019; however, a loophole kept dependents who were 17 years old and up from being eligible for the $500, excluding many college students.
In addition, the new bill also fixes a loophole in the old one that allowed around $1 billion in stimulus to be sent to dead Americans – the new bill now specifies that people who died before January 1, 2020, can't receive payments.
Finally, the new bill also includes more funding for schools, as well as a liability shield for hospitals, businesses, and other entities, while also providing for treatment, testing and vaccine funding.
Of all the provisions in the HEALS Act, it's the funding for the design and construction of a new FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. that has Senate Republicans questioning their party's own bill.
“I don’t know. That makes no sense to me,” said South Carolina's Sen. Lindsey Graham when he was asked about it by reporters.
Meanwhile, Wyoming's Sen. John Barrasso, who is a member of Republican leadership in the Senate has argued that the funding the FBI's new headquarters should not have been part of the HEALS Act. Instead, he stated that it should go through the annual government funding bills.
“To me, it’s not coronavirus related,” Barrasso said.
When asked by reporters on why the construction of a new FBI building was included in the HEALS Act, Senate Republicans directed them to the White House for answers.
“Well regarding that proposal obviously we had to have an agreement with the administration in order to get started,” said Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnel.
“They insisted on that provision,” added McConnel, who actually seemed surprised that the FBI funding was in the bill. “You will have to ask them why they insisted that be included.”
On July 6, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had already told reporters outside the White House that unrelated items sometimes get attached to legislation that is urgent.
“Everybody looks at this is the last train leaving the station so they want to attach some of those special interest needs to that,” he said. “I don’t see it standing in the way of us getting a deal.”
Learn more about how the government plans to provide relief for businesses and workers affected by the coronavirus at Pandemic.news.