Bipartisan group of lawmakers suggest COVID-19 relief stopgap

Coronavirus

UNDATED (WOOD) — The outline of a new bipartisan COVID relief plan was unveiled in Washington, D.C., Tuesday and while it will not please everyone, it might be a stopgap that could be passed before Congress goes home for Christmas.

A large bipartisan group of senators and representatives introduced the program. Twenty-five Republicans and 25 Democrats vowed to vote for the plan if it gets to the floor in its current form. Among them was U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus.

It is important to note that the COVID Emergency Relief Framework, if passed, would provide help in a number of areas but would not include individual stimulus checks like Americans saw earlier in the year.

The package would have a price tag of about $908 billion. That is far less than the $2.2 trillion Democrats in the House have approved and at which Senate Republicans have balked. The smaller package is designed only as a temporary measure that would last through the first quarter of 2021, ensuring coverage in some areas until the new administration and Congress can revisit the problems.

Among the big ticket items are:

  • $288 billion for continuing the Paycheck Protection Program to keep employees in hard-hit industries paid,
  • $180 billion for unemployment insurance,
  • $160 billion for state and local governments,
  • $45 billion for transportation including airports, airlines and mass transit,
  • And $16 billion for vaccine distribution.

There would also be money for education, student loans and housing.

We know that a handful of senators and at least 50 members of the House are on board, but it’s not clear what party leadership or the White House think of the plan. One thing is for sure: If there is any chance of it passing before the holiday recess, lawmakers will have to work quickly — not always a hallmark of the federal government.

“I am encouraged to see that there are people on both sides of the aisle that are engaging in dialogue to see how we can help get through this moment,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said of the stopgap plan during a coronavirus briefing in Lansing Tuesday afternoon. “It maybe is not the long-term solution that we all want and need to see, but to help us in this moment would be a great thing and provide much-needed support for families who are struggling, for businesses that are struggling… A bipartisan relief plan that requires leaders from both sides of the aisle to come together would be welcome news.”

Recognizing that Congress has failed to pass another coronavirus relief package, Whitmer has asked Michigan’s Legislature to take action. She wants it to pass a $100 million relief package.

“(Congress’ inaction) why we need to take action at the state level,” she said during her press conference. “It’s crucial that we come together now.”

Whitmer, a Democrat, also wants the Republican-led Legislature to provide more in unemployment payments and codify a mask mandate already in effect under a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services order. The governor noted Rep. Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming, has voiced support for a statewide mask mandate, but he appears to be in the minority among his party: Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has indicated they are not interested.

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