NAICU Washington Update

Congress Moves Toward Possible COVID Relief Package

December 04, 2020

After several weeks of stalled negotiations, serious talks have resumed between congressional leadership and White House negotiators to see whether a COVID relief funding package can be agreed to before the end of the year.  Congress is also working to avoid a government shutdown by seeking agreement on a FY 2021 omnibus spending bill.

Looking to find common ground on COVID relief, right after Thanksgiving a bipartisan group of senators introduced a framework for a $908 billion aid package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have said they could support the framework as a temporary down payment on larger relief package next year. Democrats had already offered a $2.4 trillion funding proposal in May that they stuck to throughout the election season. In response to the bipartisan framework, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reissued his $500 billion plan from this summer and has reportedly resumed conversations with White House negotiators to establish the Republican position.  

Funding for education, which includes K-12 schools and colleges and universities, remains on the list for both supporters of the bipartisan framework and Senate republicans, but their approaches differ. The bipartisan Senate proposal includes $82 billion for education but provides no specifics on how those resources would be divided between K-12 and higher education. The Republican proposal includes $105 billion for education, with roughly $29 billion for higher education.  The Republican plan would provide institutions with more flexible use of funds than the CARES Act. 

Other mutual priorities include funding for testing and vaccine development, an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, extended unemployment benefits, and extending the deadline for governors to use the Coronavirus Relief Funds from the CARES Act through 2021. However, negotiators will need to agree on how much funding is available, and for how long, for each of these areas.  Issues that are still on the negotiating table include state and local funding advocated for by Democrats, and limited liability protection, which is supported by Republicans.

If a deal is struck, passage is expected to be quick. An increasingly likely scenario is that a relief bill is added to the FY 2021 omnibus spending bill.  This would result in the two components moving together as a single package.  Since passing the omnibus spending bill is a must if Congress is to avoid a government shutdown, tying the two together could result in bringing the negotiations to an end more quickly. 

Soon after the elections, House and Senate appropriators agreed to funding levels for each of the 12 subcommittees, and have been working out the differences between their priorities to finalize the omnibus year-end spending bill. 

For student aid, both chambers include a $150 increase in the Pell Grant maximum.  The House also proposes modest increases in the other student aid programs, while the Senate level funds them. Working out these differences should at least result in there being no cuts to the federal student aid programs. 

Congress has until December 11 to finalize FY 2021 appropriations, pass another continuing resolution, or face a government shutdown. With virus cases increasing nationwide, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has advocated that Congress complete all its work by December 11, so that members can quarantine before returning home. 

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