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COVID relief

COVID-19 relief talks begin to see progress, negotiators say – New York Post

Lawmakers reported progress on a huge coronavirus relief bill Saturday, as political pressure mounts to restore an expired $600-per-week supplemental unemployment benefit and send funding to help schools reopen.

“This was the longest meeting we’ve had and it was more productive than the other meetings,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who was part of the rare weekend session. “We’re not close yet, but it was a productive discussion — now each side knows where they’re at.”

Schumer spoke alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after meeting for three hours with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

The Democratic leaders are eager for an expansive agreement, as are President Donald Trump and top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. But perhaps one half of Senate Republicans, mostly conservatives and those not facing difficult races this fall, are likely to oppose any deal.

Prior talks had yielded little progress and Saturday’s cautious optimism was a break from gloomy private assessments among GOP negotiators. The administration is willing to extend the newly expired $600 jobless benefit, at least in the short term, but is balking at other Democratic demands like aid for state and local governments, food stamp increases, and assistance to renters and homeowners.

Pelosi mentioned food aid and funding for voting by mail after the negotiating session was over. She and Schumer appeared more upbeat than they have after earlier meetings.

“We have to get rid of this virus so that we can open our economy, safely open our schools, and to do so in a way that does not give a cut in benefits to American workers,” Pelosi said.

Mnuchin said restoring the $600 supplemental jobless benefit is critically important to Trump.

“We’re still a long ways apart and I don’t want to suggest that a deal is imminent because it is not,” Meadows said afterward. “There are still substantial differences, but we did make good progress.”

The additional jobless benefit officially lapsed on Friday, and Democrats have made clear that they will not extend it without securing other relief priorities. Whatever unemployment aid negotiators agree on will be made retroactive — but antiquated state systems are likely to take weeks to restore the benefits.

Republicans in the Senate had been fighting to trim back the $600 benefit, saying it must be slashed so that people don’t make more in unemployment than they would if they returned to work. But their resolve weakened as the benefit expired, and Trump abruptly undercut their position by signaling he wants to keep the full $600 for now.

On Friday, Trump used Twitter to explicitly endorse extending the $600 payment and to criticize Schumer.

Washington’s top power players agree that Congress must pass further relief in the coming days and weeks. At stake beyond the $600 per week jobless benefit is a fresh $1,200 direct payment to most Americans, and hundreds of billions of dollars in other aid to states, businesses and the poor, among other elements.

Democrats hold a strong negotiating hand — exploiting GOP divisions — and they are expected to deliver a necessary trove of votes.

The COVID package will be the fifth legislative response to the pandemic and could well be the last one before the November election. The only other must-pass legislation on the agenda is a stopgap spending measure that should advance in September.

Since May, Republicans controlling the Senate had kept the relief negotiations on “pause” in a strategy aimed at reducing its price tag. But as the pandemic surged back over the summer — and as fractures inside the GOP have eroded the party’s negotiating position — Republicans displayed some greater flexibility.

Even with signs of progress in the talks, the list of items to negotiate remains daunting.

McConnell’s must-have item is a liability shield from lawsuits for businesses, schools, and charities that reopen as the pandemic goes on. The GOP’s business allies are strong backers but the nation’s trial lawyers retain considerable clout in opposition. A compromise is probably a challenging but necessary part of a final deal.

Among the priorities for Democrats is a boost in food stamp benefits. Republicans added $20 billion for agribusinesses but no increase for food stamp benefits in their $1 trillion proposal. Meadows played a role in killing an increase in food aid during talks on the $2 trillion relief bill in March, but Pelosi appears determined. The food stamp increases, many economists say, provide an immediate injection of demand into the economy in addition to combating growing poverty.

Food aid was the first item Pelosi mentioned in a letter to fellow Democrats apprising them of the progress.

“This is a very different kind of negotiation, because of what is at stake. Millions of children are food insecure, millions of families are at risk of eviction, and for the nineteenth straight week, over 1 million Americans applied for unemployment insurance,” Pelosi said.

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Coronavirus relief

Coronavirus relief: House’s new bill adds stimulus checks for unauthorized immigrants – Vox.com

House Democrats voted in favor of offering stimulus payments to unauthorized immigrants Friday night, prevailing over Republican efforts to strike the provision from the latest $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

The HEROES Act, which passed the House on Friday, would make taxpaying immigrants and their families eligible for federal stimulus funds regardless of their legal status. Under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act signed in late March, only immigrants with Social Security Numbers — and who fulfilled certain residency requirements — were able to receive the payments, meaning unauthorized immigrants and many temporary visa holders were excluded.

Republicans are not convinced that another aid package is warranted after the CARES Act, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying he hasn’t “yet felt the urgency of acting immediately” on further legislation.

And Republicans in the House argued emphatically against the HEROES Act’s provision offering immigrants stimulus payments, with Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia calling it a “poison pill.” The Republican position was that relief funds should be dedicated to US citizens only. Despite being joined in their opposition by 13 Democrats, however, Republicans failed to block the provision in a 198-209 vote. But it isn’t likely to survive the Republican-led Senate, where McConnell has been explicit in his objection to the plan.

“Another round of checks for illegal immigrants. Can you believe it?” McConnell said in a floor speech May 14. “We forgot to have the Treasury Department send money to people here illegally. My goodness, what an oversight. Thank goodness Democrats are on the case.”

Democrats, on the other hand, have asserted that failing to offer financial aid to many immigrant families is an injustice that must be rectified, especially as the public has come to rely on immigrants to provide essential services during the current crisis. For instance, unauthorized immigrants make up about a quarter of farmworkers and 8 percent of the service sector and production workers.

“They pay taxes, contribute to our economy, and in many cases are fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a call with reporters May 1.

Why certain immigrants have been barred from stimulus relief

The new bill would retroactively make unauthorized immigrants and their families eligible for the first round of stimulus checks, which the government started sending out in April, as well as a proposed second round of checks, which would amount to up to $1,200 for each tax filer and each of their dependents, depending on household income. These provisions are meant to correct for language in the CARES Act that left millions of people — some of them US citizens — without access to stimulus funds.

The CARES Act gave most taxpayers up to $1,200 — along with $500 for each of their children under the age of 17. But immigrants without Social Security numbers, and who have not lived in the US long enough (usually five years) to file taxes as residents, weren’t eligible for the CARES Act’s stimulus checks.

The CARES Act also excludes those in households with people of mixed-immigration status, where some tax filers or their children may use what’s called an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). The IRS issues ITINs to unauthorized immigrants, as well as certain legal immigrants so they can pay taxes, even though they don’t have Social Security numbers. If anyone in the household uses an ITIN — either a spouse or a dependent child — no one in the household qualifies for the stimulus checks unless one spouse served in the military in 2019.

This provision has led immigrant advocacy groups to challenge the CARES Act on the basis that it unlawfully discriminates against US citizens who have unauthorized immigrant family members.

“The refusal to distribute this benefit to US citizen children undermines the CARES Act’s goals of providing assistance to Americans in need, frustrates the Act’s efforts to jumpstart the economy, and punishes citizen children for their parents’ status — punishment that is particularly nonsensical given that undocumented immigrants, collectively, pay billions of dollars each year in taxes,” Mary McCord, legal director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, said in a statement.

An estimated 16.7 million people live in mixed-status households nationwide, including 8.2 million US-born or naturalized citizens.

This number also includes those with deportation protections under the Obama-era DACA program, children and young adults whose parents often don’t have legal status. They’re left wondering how they can help support their families so that their parents don’t have to go to work, where they risk getting sick, and how they can help cover the costs of their parents’ medical care should they need it, Sanaa Abrar, advocacy director at the immigrant advocacy group United We Dream, told Vox.

“With the national health crisis and what’s becoming a national unemployment crisis, folks are concerned about how they’re not only going to stay healthy and safe but also how they’re going to keep their jobs and how they’re going to find means of financial support,” she said.


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