Five questions about the next COVID-19 relief package

Many lawmakers expect Congress to pass another coronavirus relief package, but there are a lot of unknowns.

Roughly two months after lawmakers passed a wide-ranging $2.2 trillion package, negotiations have yet to heat up over the next phase — and Democrats and Republicans have different priorities for the contents of the measure.

Here are five questions about the next coronavirus relief package.

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When will a bill come together?

One of the key uncertainties about the next package is its timing.

House Democrats passed their own $3 trillion package earlier this month on a near party-line vote. But Republicans dismissed it as a Democratic wish list, and the measure isn’t expected to be taken up in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Key Republicans haven’t been in a rush to draft and negotiate another large bill, wanting to first evaluate the effectiveness of previous packages. But there are signs that they may be ready to start moving in the near future.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPublic awareness campaigns will protect the public during COVID-19 Democrats: A moment in history, use it wisely 'Comrade' Trump gets 'endorsement' from Putin in new mock ad by Lincoln Project MORE (R-Ky.) said in a Fox News interview on Thursday that “we're not quite ready to intelligently lay down the next step, but it's not too far off.” His comments follow calls for prompt action from some GOP senators facing tough reelection races.

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinCongress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help On The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? On The Money: Economy adds 4.8M jobs in June | Unemployment to average 6.1 percent through 2030: CBO | Mnuchin says no regrets on pushing to reopen MORE said Thursday during a virtual event hosted by The Hill that he thinks there is a "strong likelihood" that another bill will be needed but added that "we're going to step back for a few weeks and think very clearly how we need to spend more money and if we need to do that."

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Any agreement on a relief package is unlikely this month since the Senate has left Washington for a Memorial Day recess and isn’t returning until June 1. 

How much aid to states will there be?

A major priority for Democrats is providing additional federal assistance to states, which have been saddled with new coronavirus-related expenses and seen their revenues slump as their economies take a hit.

The House Democrats’ bill would provide nearly $1 trillion in relief for states, local governments, territories and Native American tribes. The money could be used for coronavirus-related expenses, responding to the economic effects of the pandemic and addressing revenue shortfalls.

Republicans — many of whom have concerns about assisting Democratic-leaning states that had financial challenges prior to the pandemic — have a range of opinions on providing aid to states.

Some Republicans have expressed interest in providing states with more funds, while others are more reluctant to provide more money to states but are interested in giving state and local governments more flexibility to use the $150 billion that Congress has already provided for them.

Some Republicans have also been hesitant altogether to give states further relief.

McConnell told Fox News on Thursday that Congress may provide states with more funds in the future but shouldn’t make a decision until lawmakers can evaluate the impact of the money Congress has already allocated and see what happens as states start reopening their economies.

Will the boost to unemployment benefits be extended?

The $2.2 trillion law Trump signed in March boosts unemployment benefits by $600 per week through the end of July in an effort to provide assistance to the millions of Americans who abruptly lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.

The additional $600, when added to the weekly unemployment benefits provided by states, was intended to replace 100 percent of average wages. Lawmakers chose to increase benefits by a flat amount so states could quickly administer the aid.

Democrats say the benefits provide people with critical help and are largely supportive of extending the period for the extra benefit, noting that many people will still be unable to find work in July, when it's set to expire. The bill House Democrats passed would extend the $600 per week increase through Jan. 31.

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But Trump administration officials and many congressional Republicans have expressed concerns about the fact that some people are receiving more in unemployment benefits than they had in wages before they became unemployed. They are worried that the increased benefits are creating a disincentive for people to return to work.

Will the next bill include liability protection?

McConnell has said that a must-have for Republicans in the next relief package is liability protection for medical professionals and businesses.

He said earlier this month that he is working on a proposal with Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday New legislation required to secure US semiconductor leadership MORE (R-Texas) that would raise the liability threshold for medical malpractice lawsuits and provide legal protection for businesses, nonprofits and government agencies.

House Democrats did not include provisions on liability protection for businesses in their bill. House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? Military bases should not be renamed, we must move forward in the spirit of reconciliation Pelosi: Trump 'himself is a hoax' MORE (D-Calif.) has expressed openness to negotiations on her caucus's bill but has been critical of the idea in the past, saying that worker safety needs to be prioritized.

Will there be more direct payments to Americans?

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The $2.2 trillion law provided for one-time direct payments to most Americans in an effort to help people suffering from the economic hit caused by the pandemic. Individuals with income up to $75,000 and married couples with income up to $150,000 are eligible for the full amount of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.

Democrats argue that a single round of payments is not enough. House Democrats’ bill would create a second round of payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $1,200 per dependent. It also would expand eligibility for the first round of payments.

Many progressives would like to go further than the bill House Democrats passed, calling for recurring monthly payments of $2,000.

Some Trump administration officials have said they are considering additional payments. But many GOP lawmakers are not keen on more payments or think it’s too early to say whether additional payments are needed.