Washington Update

Bipartisan Response to USPS Issues Brings Congress Back to Washington

August 21, 2020

In response to the Trump administration’s changes to U. S. Postal Service (USPS) operations, and the president’s comments regarding fraudulent voting-by-mail in the November elections, Congress is poised to come back to Washington this weekend to take action to support the postal service, and possibly consider additional coronavirus relief.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has called the House of Representatives back into session this Saturday for votes following the Democratic National Convention. Under consideration will be a bill to provide $25 billion in additional funding for the Postal Service while prohibiting USPS operational changes until after the election.  A bill to retroactively extend unemployment benefits of $600 until the end of the year  may also be considered.  The unemployment benefits expired on July 31. The House passed its additional coronavirus relief bill, the HEROES Act, in May.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is circulating a modified version of a coronavirus relief bill that directly addresses the postal service crisis, and attempts to garner additional Republican support for coronavirus relief. Spending in the draft bill is roughly half the $1 trillion provided in the HEALS Act, introduced in late July, which did not have majority support in the Senate Republican Caucus. If Senate Republicans can coalesce around this version, McConnell could bring the Senate back into session following the Republican National Convention August 24-27.

While overall funding is less, the draft Senate bill includes $10 billion in additional funding for the USPS, and maintains the $105 billion for education stabilization, including the $29 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, as provided for in the HEALS Act.

The liability protections included in the Senate proposal are virtually identical to those provisions in the previous relief bill circulated by Senate Republicans, with a handful of minor technical changes. The liability shield would protect institutions of higher education from personal injury suits unless the plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that the institution: (1) was not making reasonable efforts to comply with applicable government standards; and (2) engaged in gross negligence or willful misconduct that caused an actual exposure to coronavirus. Additionally, the bill would preempt state laws, unless such laws impose stricter limits on liability or damages for personal injury suits related to coronavirus.

The bill also includes improvements to the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) that would allow recipients to use funding for more expansive purposes, including operations, supply costs, worker protection equipment, and property damage. The proposal also allows recipients to pick any 8-week loan forgiveness window between the time funds were received and December 31, 2020.  A Second Draw Loans program under the Payroll Protection Program is also established with a limit of $2 million for the additional round of loans.  However few colleges will qualify, as two of the eligibility requirements are that the entity must have 300 employees or less and have lost 35 percent in revenues from the first or second quarter in 2019 to the parallel quarter in 2020. 

Republicans also include a $300 extension of unemployment benefits until December 27, 2020, but do not include direct funding for states and localities, which is a top priority for House Democrats.

Despite the differences that remain, the bipartisan response to the USPS crisis could possibly bring negotiators back to the table on the broader coronavirus relief package.

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