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Does the HEROES Act Deliver for Working People?

New York, NY – While the HEROES Act is being applauded by some for including essential workers left out of previous relief packages, the legislation now wending its way through Congress faces strong opposition, too.

The HEROES Act made it through the House, but is now before the U.S. Senate.

For many progressives, the legislation fails to be both cost effective and inclusive for 36 million unemployed workers and those struggling in lower-income brackets. 

Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) fought to include more relief for essential workers.

“Many of these essential frontline workers are often overlooked. It is only just to see property service workers, agricultural workers, warehouse employees, and grocery store employees, covered by this provision,” Meng said on May 15. “Our janitors, security officers, residential door persons and others are often left out of these conversations, but they are crucial to keeping key buildings and facilities up and running.”

Meng pushed for the following items in the HEROES Act before voting in favor:

  • Inclusion of the Emergency Educational Connections Act (H.R. 6563), which would provide $1.5 billion for Internet access for students who are doing remote learning.
  • Nearly $200 billion to help struggling renters and homeowners pay their rent and mortgages to help them stay in their homes.
  • Billions for coronavirus testing and contract tracing, both critical components to combating the spread of the virus, and eventually re-opening the nation.
  • More money to New York State and New York City – the nexus of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Extensions of the enhanced unemployment insurance through January 2021 to provide relief for those who are struggling after losing their jobs.
  • Elimination of the 75/25-rule for the Paycheck Protection Program, and an increase in the flexibility of PPP loan usage from 8 weeks to 24 weeks.

Hipolito Andon, a building porter in midtown Manhattan, worries about losing his job during the ongoing pandemic.

“I’m risking it all on the frontlines,” Andon said recently. “To make this job worth it, I need essential pay and a steady supply of Personal Protection Equipment [PPE]. At the end of the day, I could be laid off, and then what would my family do? We cannot struggle and be left behind like this while COVID-19 takes the lives of frontline workers.”

Other items Meng is advocating include:

  • More cash assistance to families and children.
  • $200 billion to fund hazard pay for frontline workers, and defining this broad category of essential workers who have put their health and safety on the line to keep NY and the nation running.
  • Expansion and increase in funding for SNAP, and allowing the program to cover hot food purchases from retailers. No one should go hungry – not during this crisis, and not ever.
  • Ability of immigrants who use Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) to receive economic stimulus payments, and making these funds retroactive.
  • Extension of work permits for immigrants, many of whom are serving as essential workers on the frontlines of combating the coronavirus pandemic.

Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ SEIU, says cleaners, residential workers, security officers, and other service workers who have been keeping cities clean and safe during this crisis deserve to receive up to $10,000 in premium payments that the bill would provide and that immigrant workers should get help. 

“The HEROES Act guarantees paid sick time and expands unemployment insurance and access to health care,” said Bragg. “It extends DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants so that these long time community members can continue to remain with their families and contribute as essential workers.”

However, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), an outspoken Justice Democrat and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who caucuses with the Democrats, have called into question aspects of the bill that were ushered in by U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Instead of using the bill to push for Medicare For All, which would cover every American, the bill will subsidize 100-percent of COBRA, a policy signed into law by former Pres. Ronald Reagan in 1986 that only helps the unemployed briefly after a job loss. Once fired or furloughed, an employee pays all of the cost, but in this case the government would pay the full cost including fees, deductibles and copays. 

Allowing the government to flip the bill for insurance companies doesn’t take into account those that were uninsured before the pandemic, nor does it take into account that if a company goes out of business that the coverage will cease to exist, according to Jayapal who voted “nay” on the bill on May 15. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) also voted “nay.”

The Heroes Act would also repeal the SALT limitation that was enacted by Donald Trump to cap deductions at $10,000, which hurt those living in blue states with high taxes, but according to the Joint Committee on Taxation those making $100,000 in income would benefit more from the repeal than those making less and millionaires will benefit the most in 2020 and 2021.

Jayapal has instead introduced the Medicare Crisis Program Act of 2020 and Paycheck Guarantee Act to address both issues and to help the economy restart when the pandemic comes to an end.  

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