WASHINGTON – The nation remains mired in the worst economy since the Great Depression despite Congress’ approving trillions during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep large industries afloat, rescue small businesses, boost unemployment benefits and put money in millions of American pockets.
So what’s the next step?
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell are set to testify Tuesday afternoon before the House Financial Services Committee to report on the efficacy of the federal response so far and what – if any – measures should be pursued.
Mnuchin will likely be asked about a couple of missteps with the massive economic stimulus program, including how hundreds of publicly traded companies received Paycheck Protection Program loans meant for small businesses and how more than 1 million dead people got stimulus checks from the federal government.
The Government Accountability Office reported last week that a legal interpretation left the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service unable to use government death records to stop the stimulus checks from going to people who are dead.
As a result, nearly 1.1 million payments totaling nearly $1.4 billion were distributed to dead people as of April 30, the report said.
News of the payments comes as lawmakers are weighing another round of direct payments to millions of Americans.
In addition, Mnuchin and Powell could be pressed about further stimulus actions that Democrats have embraced.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow Democrats passed the HEROES Act last month, a bill that would steer billions to financially socked states and local governments and provide a second round of direct payments to millions of Americans, was panned by Senate Republicans and declared “dead on arrival” by President Donald Trump.
At more than $3 trillion, the HEROES Act (the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act) would be larger than the four previous economic stimulus packages combined that Congress has approved since March to combat the coronavirus.
Among the measure’s more prominent elements:
- $200 billion for a “heroes fund” that would provide “hazard pay” to essential employees such as front-line health care workers.
- $75 billion to beef up testing and contact tracing.
- A second round of economic impact payments of $1,200 per family member, up to $6,000 per household.
- $10 billion for emergency grants to small businesses through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
- COBRA subsidies to workers who have lost their health insurance because they’ve been laid off. It also creates a special enrollment period in the Affordable Care Act exchanges for the uninsured.
- Extension of weekly $600 federal unemployment payments through January.
- $175 billion to help renters and homeowners make monthly rent, mortgage and utility payments and other housing-related cost.
Mnuchin and Powell appeared jointly before the Senate Banking Committee in May to discuss the progress of stimulus programs.