By Lauren Schapker, vice president of legislative affairs, ARTBA
Congressional leadership is at an impasse over the scale and scope of the next COVID-19 relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) July 27 offered a $1 trillion bill, leaving a wide gap with the $3 trillion measure the House passed in May.
The Senate’s Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act focuses on liability protection for businesses, additional funds for the small business loan program known as the Paycheck Protection Program, and financial support for school districts. The bill was drafted by McConnell in close partnership with the White House.
The HEALS Act does not include aid to state transportation departments (DOTs), but it would provide an additional $10 billion to airports for operations or capital improvements. It also includes legislation that would create a congressional commission to find long-term solutions for the financial stability of major federal trust funds, including the Highway Trust Fund. The recommendations would potentially require consideration by the full Congress.
While negotiations between Democrats and the White House continued throughout the week, McConnell faced dissension within the Republican caucus over spending in the HEALS Act, making the path forward in the Senate more challenging. State and local aid is expected to be a key negotiating factor with Senate Democrats and the House.
The House HEROES Act would provide $15 billion in aid to state DOTs and nearly $1 trillion to state and local governments.
ARTBA and 40 other national associations and labor unions sent a July 20 letter to the Senate urging support for state DOTs. ARTBA will continue pushing Congress to include aid to state, localities, and DOTs in the final package.