Late Monday, House Democrats released an updated version of the “Heroes Act,” the massive $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief bill that passed the House mostly along partisan lines in May but has languished since then. The new 2154-page legislative text is billed as a slimmed down version of the prior bill, and Capitol Hill sources suggest the new legislation could be considered on the House floor as soon as today.
Despite its “slimmed down” billing, a review of the legislation’s unemployment provisions shows it calls for an expansion of several key unemployment benefits, including an extension of 13 more weeks of benefits (for a new total of up to 72 weeks of benefits) and an expansion of the eligibility criteria for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which has been subject to significant fraud and abuse.
Meanwhile, as the table below also displays, the legislation adds a new $125-per-week federal benefit for individuals with at least $5,000 in prior self-employment earnings, on top of the revived $600 per week federal bonus and other unemployment benefits. As under the May version of the legislation, the $600 bonus would be extended through January 2021 with a phase-out through March 2021 — except its revival would begin after September 5, when the intervening $300 per week federal Lost Wages Assistance program ceased supplementing other unemployment benefits.
Comparison of Unemployment Benefit Policies in Heroes Act I and II
|Policy||Heroes Act I (May 2020)||Heroes Act II (September 2020)|
|Extension of $600 bonus||Extends the federal $600 per week bonus from late July 2020 through January 2021, with a soft phase-out through March 2021.||Same extension, except the revival of the $600 bonus begins after September 5, 2020 (that is, not during weeks when intervening $300-per-week federal Lost Wages Assistance benefits were payable).|
|Additional $125 benefit for “mixed earners”||No provision.||Adds a new $125-per-week federal “mixed-earner unemployment compensation” benefit (on top of the $600 bonus and other unemployment benefits) for individuals with at least $5,000 in prior self-employment earnings.|
|Disregard of $600 bonus||Expands the current law disregard of the $600 bonus payments (which currently covers only Medicaid) to include “any Federal program or under any State or local program financed in whole or in part with Federal funds.”||Same, but adds that this change “shall take effect as if included in the enactment of the CARES Act,” suggesting unemployment benefit recipients may be able to file new claims for SNAP and other means-tested benefits back to March 2020.|
|More weeks of extended benefits||Proposes a total of up to 59 weeks of all unemployment benefits (up to 26 weeks of UI, 13 of PEUC, and 20 of EB).||Proposes a total of up to 72 weeks of all unemployment benefits (adding a new 13-week PEUC “extension” program).|
|PUA extension and eligibility expansion||Extends PUA through January 2021 (i.e. a one-month straight extension).||Same extension, but also expands eligibility for PUA, such as for adults whose children are in schools that are “partially reopened” or for whom “physical attendance at the school or facility presents an unacceptable health risk for the household.” Also allows the waiver of the repayment of PUA overpayments back to the program’s start, including if repayment “would be contrary to equity and good conscience.”|
|Extension of CARES Act benefits||Extends PEUC plus federal financing of STC and the first week of UI benefits through January 2021 (i.e. a one-month straight extension).||Same as Heroes Act I.|
|Other extensions||Extends 100 percent federal funding of EB, interest-free treatment on federal loans, and federal assistance for reimbursable employers through June 2021 (i.e. a six-month straight extension).||Same as Heroes Act I.|
|Report on claim backlogs||No provision.||Requires states to update the Department of Labor on backlogs of unemployment claims and develop a corrective action plan.|
Note: SNAP = Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps);
PEUC = federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, a program that currently provides 13 weeks of extended benefits to those exhausting state UI benefits;
PUA = federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program;
STC = Short-time compensation;
UI = state Unemployment Insurance program;
EB = Extended Benefits program.
This article first appeared on the AEIdeas blog, a publication of the American Enterprise Institute.