HEALS Act stimulus package: Senate GOP proposes $1,200 check with other benefits

Proposals under consideration in Washington could provide financial support during the pandemic.

Angela Lang/CNET

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At long last, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a handful of fellow Senators announced the HEALS Act on Monday, the Republicans’ new stimulus proposal intended to offset the financial and job losses brought on by an intensifying coronavirus pandemic. HEALS stands for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools.

“The American people need more help,” McConnell said. “The pandemic is not finished. The economic pain is not finished. So Congress cannot be finished either.”

The GOP’s HEALS Act proposes a second stimulus check worth up to $1,200 to help keep eligible Americans afloat as the recession continues to deepen. In addition, the legislation will renew enhanced unemployment assistance, though offering significantly less financial support than March’s CARES Act. It will also pledge more than $100 billion to school reopening.

“The check is there,” White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said Sunday on CNN. “The reemployment bonus is there. The retention bonus is there. There will be breaks for small tax credits for small businesses and restaurants. That’s all going to be there.”


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The Senate proposal is the next step toward negotiating the economic package and then signing it into law. Until the House and Senate reach an agreement, expect rounds of bipartisan negotiations as lawmakers hammer out the bill. Congress has until until Aug. 7, the last day before another monthlong Senate recess, to decide.

Now that we have both the Republican and Democrat proposals, we’ve gathered some of the many ideas that politicians from both sides of the aisle have suggested — including a second round of stimulus payment — and assessed how likely they are to be considered in the legislative debate. We also take a look at how these proposals might affect you if they become part of the next coronavirus relief package. This story is frequently updated.

Second stimulus check to assist individuals through the economic crisis

What it is: A payment sent to qualifying individuals and families, based on annual income, age, number of dependents and other factors. The first stimulus checks authorized under the CARES Act have gone out to over 160 million Americans — either as a check, prepaid credit card or direct deposit. But not with a hitch, and after three months some are still waiting for their payment.

How it could help you: The payment is not taxable and you can use it however you want to pay for food, housing, clothing and so on. The idea is that spending the checks helps the economy recover faster.

Why we think we will get a second check: The CARES Act authorized payments up to $1,200 per person. Senate Republicans propose following that same payment model with the HEALS Act. House Democrats with their HEROES Act offer slightly different payment and eligibility guidelines. While other parts of the CARES Act might have been better targeted at those who needed the aid, the stimulus checks were popular, and with both parties and the White House supporting a second round, another check should be part of the final bill.


The HEALS Act proposes to give eligible Americans the same size stimulus check as March.

James Martin/CNET

New enhanced unemployment benefits for jobless Americans

What it is: An additional weekly check for people who applied for unemployment for the first time or were already collecting unemployment. The program initially granted by the CARES Act provided an extra $600 per week and expired on Saturday, but lawmakers are looking into another unemployment boost now. McConnell did not announce the specific details on Monday.

Why we think it could happen: Republicans have already supported an extension, though at a reduced rate, saying $600 a week is too generous. “We have learned what we knew at the time,” Senator Chuck Grassley said on Monday, “that when you pay people more not to work than they would get working, what do you expect? People will not work. And what this country needs is more workers.”

But with new unemployment claims (PDF) exceeding $1 million each week for more than four months and 31.8 million people in total claiming benefits this month, the White House and Senate were under pressure to renew the benefit. The Senate proposal for extending the benefits will be based on 70 to 75 percent of lost wages, Grassley said, starting at $200 a week and over time increasing to $500 a week.

How it could help you: An extra weekly payment on top of the ordinary unemployment benefit gives individuals and families a leg up and cutting it off or reducing it could be devastating for both unemployed workers and the economy. 

“Each dollar of unemployment insurance boosts economy-wide spending by $2,” said Lily Roberts, director of economic mobility at the Center for American Progress. “The Economic Policy Institute estimates that letting the $600 unemployment insurance extension expire would by itself lead to more job loss than happened in the recessions of the early 1990s or early 2000s.”

Payroll Protection Program to help businesses save existing jobs

What it is: Intended to help you keep your job, the Paycheck Protection Program provides forgivable loans to small businesses as an incentive to keep employees on the payroll. 

How it could help you: Not a stimulus check, the program is designed to keep workers employed who would otherwise have lost their jobs during the pandemic. The program got off to a rocky start and it’s not clear it met the goals Congress set for it. 

“Overall PPP hasn’t preserved many paychecks,” wrote Joshua Gotbaum, a guest scholar of economic studies at the Brookings Institution. “A careful study [PDF] found that PPP-eligible small businesses laid people off just as quickly as other businesses,” he said.

Why we think it could get extended: McConnell said it will be included in the HEALS Act, and the Republican proposal will target the hardest-hit small businesses, Senator Susan Collins said on Monday.


A tax credit would help with your pay.

Angela Lang/CNET

Employee retention tax credit to help pay wages

What it is: Under the program, an employer can receive refundable tax credits for wages paid to an employee during the pandemic. The employer can then use the credits to subtract from — and even receive a refund over — taxes they owe.

How it could help you: Again, it’s not a direct payment to you, but the program encourages businesses to keep workers on the payroll.

Why we think it could happen: Grassley said the HEALS Act includes further tax relief for business who for hire and rehire workers, and the Democrat-backed Heroes Act also builds on the tax credits that were part of the initial CARES Act. And there’s additional bipartisan support besides.


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What it is: A temporary weekly bonus for unemployed workers who secure or resecure a job, on top of their wages. As proposed by Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, the bonus would be $450 a week.

How it could help you: Under Portman’s plan, the weekly bonus would go to laid-off workers who return to work.

Why we think it may not happen: The White House in May expressed interest in the bonus and Portman continues to support the idea. Kudlow did suggest it would be part of the HEALS proposal, but McConnell and the other Senate presenters didn’t mention a bonus on Monday.

Rental assistance to help stave off evictions

What it is: About 5% of renters for April, May and June haven’t paid their full rent, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. This plan would help renters pay rent and assist landlords with expenses with less rent money coming in, especially as the US faces a potential “tsunami of evictions.”

How it could help you: The rental assistance program would temporarily help you pay rent if you qualify, put a hold on evictions for a year and help cover costs of rental property owners because of rental payment shortfalls.

Why we think it might happen: Kudlow mentioned that the Senate proposal will lengthen the eviction moratorium. However, it was not part of the Senate presentation on Monday, and these protections have now lapsed.


Payroll tax cuts may not make the cut in the next coronavirus relief bill, currently known as CARES Act 2.

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Payroll tax cut so workers receive bigger paychecks

What it is: President Donald Trump has for months pushed the idea of including temporary payroll tax cuts in the next stimulus package. The proposal could include cutting both the employer and employee share of payroll taxes.

How it could help you: If you have a job, a payroll tax cut would let you keep more of your earnings each check. The plan would not help those who are unemployed and don’t receive a paycheck. As of July 4, the nearly 32 million people (PDF) who were claiming unemployment insurance would not benefit.

Why we don’t think it’ll happen: Neither the Heroes Act nor the current Senate plan includes a payroll tax cut. Even Trump seems to have given up on the plan.

“I would have preferred a payroll tax cut, on top of that check,” Kudlow said on Sunday. “But, be that as it may, politically it doesn’t work.”

Until we know for sure what the finalized stimulus bill will bring, there are some resources to help you through the financial crisis, including coronavirus hardship loans and unemployment insurancewhat you can do if you’ve lost your jobwhat to know about evictions and late car payments; and how to take control of your budget.

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