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WITT: HEALS Act is a handout to those who don’t need it

On July 27, four days before the CARES Act was scheduled to run out, Senate Republicans proposed the HEALS Act (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools). The act was predicted to cost $1 trillion, which is $2 trillion less than the previous act.

The new act is important for what it doesn’t include more so than for what it does.

In many respects, it appears to be another government handout to a large segment of American society that does not need it.

HEALS is certainly a misnomer for the act because it doesn’t include rent assistance (thus, more homelessness) or funding for state and local governments, which will mean drastic cuts for school funding (over and above what the Kentucky legislature has already dictated in the current state budget).

This lack of funding will dramatically impact states and local governments that have endured severe cuts in income and excess outlays to combat the effects of COVID-19.

Continuous shortfalls in local revenues may result in layoffs of health workers, first responders, teachers, food, transit and sanitation workers.

Other deficiencies of the act include a two-thirds reduction in unemployment benefits, no extension of the eviction moratorium, no election funding or funding for the U.S. Post Office to deal with the added difficulties of voting during the pandemic and no additional funding for Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly known as food stamps (see below).

The act also seeks to force schools to reopen to get their funding, but doesn’t provide any additional funding for the expenses of school systems to deal with added requirements for sanitation supplies and practices.

But some corporations and federal government entities are scheduled to do quite well under this act.

For instance, it includes $29 billion for defense spending, including the purchase of F-35 fighter planes and Apache helicopters. This largesse is included in part to make up for the money previously siphoned from the defense budget to build the border wall.

It includes $1.75 billion for a new FBI building, and it is no secret that every single contract that the government has ever issued has resulted in huge overruns so the $1.75 billion will undoubtedly balloon dramatically before that project is completed.

Additionally, the act includes protection against lawsuits related to COVID-19 for five years, even if infections resulted from the malfeasance of the employer.

And there are business meal and entertainment tax breaks in the bill, while ignoring SNAP (see above).

But even a bill as bad as this one can have some redeeming features and this one includes a re-employment bonus to those currently unemployed who secure a job. There is also a proposed $118 billion in new money for hospitals, testing, contact tracing, treatment and vaccines and $100 billion for the Paycheck Protection plan that aids small businesses.

The bill, in its present form (at the time this is being written) has objections from both Republican and Democrat lawmakers, and it is reported that Sen. Mitch McConnell does not support all of the provisions in the bill that he, himself, has proposed.

The CARES act was passed by Congress in May.  There have been two months during which Congress could have come up with something more acceptable to everyone, but now there is pressure to pass something since the previous bill has elapsed and the uncertainty resulting therefrom is leaving individuals, local governments, states and even the federal bureaucracy in a quandary.

This ain’t no way to run a railroad.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.