Thursday, October 22, 2020

U.S. House of Representatives Passes Heroes 2.0 Act to Help Combat Covid-19

By on October 2, 2020

(Photo by Harold Mendoza on Unsplash)

SAN JUAN – On Thursday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Heroes 2.0 Act, a revised version of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, a legislative package that would provide additional emergency relief in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. If enacted, the measure would allocate more than $2.2 trillion in funding to help address the the public health crisis.  

The bill was passed by the Democratic majority in a 214-207 vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continue negotiations.

“The Trump administration delivered concessions Wednesday, including a $400 per week pandemic jobless benefit and a markedly higher overall price tag of $1.6 trillion, but that failed to win over Pelosi,” according to the Associated Press. “The vote was advertised as a way to demonstrate Democrats were making a good faith offer on coronavirus relief, but 18 Democrats abandoned the party and sentiment remains among more moderate Democrats to make more concessions and guarantee an agreement before Election Day. Republicans controlling the Senate remained divided.”

In a news release regarding the passage, the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) highlighted several of the provisions that would benefit the island.

Specifically, it includes a provision that would provide an additional $1.24 billion for Puerto Rico’s Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP), which serves more than 759,000 low-income families on the island.

“This allocation represents the amount requested by Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced in a July 2020 letter sent to Congress asking for an emergency funding allocation to meet the increased demand for nutritional assistance during the pandemic,” the release reads.

The legislation would also provide funding for an additional round of Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) of $1,200 per taxpayer and $500 per dependent. Also, college students who are dependents could be counted for the payments in contrast with prior provisions on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (Cares) Act.

The PRFAA also pointed to the bill’s extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the $600-per-week unemployment benefits under the Cares Act until January. Under the Cares Act, the student loan payment suspension was set to expire at the end of this month; however, President Trump released an executive order in August that extended the payment suspension through the end of the year. The HEROES 2.0 Act would provide additional support by extending the payment suspension and interest accrual until September 30, 2021 and including borrowers with non-federally held students’ loans.

The legislation would also provide $21 billion to states, territories, and tribes to address “the ongoing needs of homeowners struggling to afford their housing by providing direct assistance with mortgage payments, property taxes, property insurance, utilities, and other housing-related costs,” the agency said.

The bill also includes $75 billion for Covid-19 testing, contact tracing, and other healthcare efforts, as well as $436 billion in assistance to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to pay “vital workers like first responders and health workers,” the release says, adding that the measure also includes billions of dollars for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the U.S. Postal Service and election security.  

“While our Nation continues to grapple with the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to note that this health crisis does not obviate Puerto Rico’s unmet needs from prior disasters. The island continues to recover from the 2017 hurricanes and the ongoing earthquakes that continue to impact the island. After thousands of earthquakes struck and devastated Puerto Rico in January 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Emergency Supplemental Appropriation for Disaster Relief Act, 2020, H.R. 5687, a $4.7 billion bill that included critical disaster relief funding for the island. However, that legislation never passed the U.S. Senate. Therefore, the HEROES 2.0 Act’s approval is critical to ensure swift recuperation for the 3.2 million U.S. citizens that call the island home,” the PRFAA wrote.

“We thank the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the HEROES Act 2.0 to help our nation combat both the health and economic effects of COVID-19. We must not forget that Puerto Rico was in a state of recovery as this pandemic hit the island. This pandemic does not obviate Puerto Rico’s unmet needs from prior disasters. PRFAA has been working to ensure that that the people of Puerto Rico have equal access to the provisions in this legislation.  We thank Speaker Pelosi for the increase in NAP funding, and urge the U.S. Senate to swiftly approve this legislation,” PRFAA Executive Director Jennifer M. Storipan added.