What’s Good, and What’s Missing, in Congress’ Third COVID-19 Emergency Response Package - Report from The Century Foundation
The Century Foundation has analyzed the third phase of Congress’ emergency response to the deadly COVID-19 outbreak, the most expensive emergency measure in U.S. history, that was unanimously agreed to by the U.S. Senate on March 25. The bill is intended to cushion the pandemic’s blow to the nation’s economy and health care network. Below, TCF fellows highlight the impact the measure will likely have, and what Congress should next, in five areas of our expertise: unemployment insurance, health care, college students and student loan borrowers, K–12 education, and women in the workplace and their families. Here’s what’s good and what’s missing in Congress’ third emergency package in these five specific areas.
COVID-19 is resulting in an unprecedented and necessary drop in business activity and unemployment. The Senate bill delivers effective targeted aid to mitigate the damage and is a necessary next step for stimulus and recovery in response to this crisis. Senator Chuck Schumer, in fact, called the phase 3 Senate bill “UI on steroids.”
- Provides an extra $600-per-week boost to regular state unemployment benefits for claims through July 31, 2020, a four month period. This is a major increase that will get most workers to, or near, 100 percent of their pre-layoff wage.
- Creates a special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program to provide benefits to those not eligible for regular state unemployment benefits and who are out of work because of the COVID-19 crisis, such as gig workers and the self-employed.
- Provides an additional thirteen weeks of benefits for those who were already collecting regular state unemployment benefits when phase 3 was adopted.
- Fully funds work-sharing benefits that allow companies to reduce work hours for their staff but keep them on full payroll, and maintain their health and retirement benefits.
Phase 3 represents a major step forward for jobless families facing hardship this year. Certainly, the bill could have gone farther. The Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, introduced by House Democrats on March 23, would have provided significant extra benefits for new entrants to the labor market, such as college students and other new workers who won’t be able to find a job but don’t have enough work history to qualify for regular benefits. And, phase 3 did not fix the fundamental flaws in the underlying unemployment insurance program, including states that currently offer just twelve weeks of benefits, a fix that was included in a new comprehensive unemployment insurance proposal by Senator Michael Bennett.
CONTRIBUTOR: ANDREW STETTNER.
The COVID-19 outbreak is forcing policymakers to review health insurance coverage for highly vulnerable populations, as well as overall support for our health care system. Congress’ phase 1 emergency response (HR 6074) required that vaccines be “affordable,” and it also expanded telehealth, while its phase 2 bill (HR 6201) guaranteed free COVID-19 testing. But the continued and rapid spread of the virus requires a more comprehensive, holistic response.
- Provides some clarification to the phase 2 bill as to which testing is covered, and requires rapid coverage of preventive care and vaccines within fifteen days of the relevant medical authorities making a recommendation to do so.
- Provides a total of $150 billion for the nation’s hospitals and health care system to respond to COVID-19.
- Provides $425 million to increase access to mental health services during the pandemic.
- Supports health care workers by increasing funding for personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies, establishes a Ready Reserve Corps, and includes directives for health workforce coordination and planning in order to build a more robust, well-trained health care workforce.
- Provides $1.32 billion in supplemental funding for community health centers to ramp up testing and treatment on the frontlines.
- Establishes new grants to promote telehealth.
- Reauthorizes the Healthy Start Program and provides $125.5 million to reduce infant mortality rates and improve perinatal and infant health outcomes.
While phase 3 brings critically needed new aid to this effort, it fails to address the desperate need for key health insurance coverage expansions as more Americans are being exposed to COVID-19 and losing their jobs and access to employer-sponsored health insurance during this crisis. In fact, 27.9 million people were already uninsured before the spread of COVID-19, and an estimated 87 million were inadequately insured. The health care system is already experiencing grave shortfalls, and in some geographic areas, it is failing to meet the needs of people who have fallen ill due to COVID-19 exposure and other chronic illnesses. Congress must expand health coverage in response to the pandemic.
Congress should embrace the health care elements of the House’s phase 3 bill that encourage people to seek testing and care, help limit the spread of the virus, improve individual health, and minimize financial harm. For example, Congress should ensure free (no cost-sharing) treatment and vaccines for insured and uninsured people, re-open the Obamacare exchanges for a “special enrollment period” for people to obtain health coverage, and expand financial assistance when they do. Congress should also provide automatic increases in federal support to states to pay for Medicaid costs when unemployment rises.
CONTRIBUTORS: JAMILA TAYLOR AND JENNIFER MISHORY.
Student Loan Borrowers
The COVID-19 outbreak threatens to create significant strains for the 44 million borrowers already drowning in more than $1.5 trillion of student loan debt. More than 7 million federal student loan borrowers were already in default before COVID-19 and employment disruptions caused by the outbreak require immediate action...