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More stimulus checks, reduced jobless money in Senate GOP HEALS Act

The Republican offer also includes Sen. Mitt Romney’s updated version of the TRUST Act that would ”rescue” trust funds like Social Security and Medicare.

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, arrives to a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing to examine implementation of Title I of the CARES Act, Wednesday, June 10, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Al Drago, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Senate Republicans on Monday unveiled their version of the next round of coronavirus relief legislation that would include a second dose of individual stimulus checks, a cut in unemployment benefits and an effort by Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney to ensure the long-term viability of government trust funds, like Social Security.

On the Senate floor Monday, Romney detailed an updated version of the Time to Rescue United States Trust Act, or TRUST Act, a bill to create congressional subcommittees that would develop legislation to ”rescue the major, endangered federal trust funds,” a statement from Romney’s office said.

“This is the right time to act. Our trust funds are approaching insolvency even more rapidly due to the pandemic. More importantly, if we don’t act now, it will never happen before we face an overwhelming crisis,” Romney said on the Senate floor Monday. “And one of the lessons the COVID-19 crisis has taught us is that it is far better to prepare, and hopefully prevent, a problem than to wait until a crisis is upon us.”

The TRUST Act would create individual “rescue committees” for each of the nation’s trust funds — like the Social Security, Medicare and the Highway trust funds — with equal, bipartisan representation from the Senate and House to create legislation for expedited approval in Congress, Romney said.

When first introduced by Romney last October, the proposal received bipartisan support in both the Senate and House. At the time, TRUST Act supporter Utah Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams said millions of Americans rely on the benefits they’ve earned and “we owe it to them and to future generations to carefully consider the options that will ensure we protect and strengthen these programs,” according to Deseret News.

Romney’s speech Monday came after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced the Health, Economic, Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act, that would include a second round of individual payments, similar to those included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act from March.

Taxpayers who made less than $75,000 received a $1,200 stimulus check, while married couples who earned up to $150,000 received $2,400, based on their 2018 or 2019 taxes. An additional $500 per child was included for parents, and would be given additional help to those individuals who provided for adult dependents.

The stimulus payments is among the few areas of apparent agreement between the Senate version and the $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that passed the House in May. One major sticking point is enhanced unemployment relief, which expires at the end of the month.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday the HEALS Act will include unemployment insurance, but in a drastically different form than a previous aid in the CARES Act, The Hill reported. The March legislation provided a $600 weekly unemployment benefit in addition to regular unemployment benefits. The GOP Senate proposal would reimburse unemployed workers at 70% of an employee’s pre-pandemic wage. 

Because the reimagined program could take weeks to implement, as opposed to a simple flat rate, Mnuchin said a “bridge” of one final $600 weekly payment would be issued, followed by $200 weekly payments until state unemployment programs adapt to the proposed change.

According the Romney, the Senate GOP offer also includes an extension of Payroll Protection Program with the modification that business must have no more than 300 employees and have suffered a 50% or greater loss in revenue. The Senate HEALS Act includes $110 billion for education, with around $70 billion allocated for K-12 schools.

The House bill, which was opposed by all of Utah’s congressmen, includes an extension of the $600 unemployment benefit until the end of the year.

During a press call Monday evening, Romney said it would take “Democrats agreeing to sit down with (Senate) Leader McConnell and hashing though each of the provisions that we propose and that they propose.”

The senator added that it would probably require White House leadership, like from Mnuchin, to get bipartisan consensus on the latest pandemic relief package.

The Washington Post reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., met late Monday with Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to begin formal negotiations.

“I can tell you, not everything in our package I agree with. And a lot of things in the Democrat package I don’t agree with,” Romney said. “But we’ve got to come up with something to help the American people, and our schools and our health care system on an urgent basis. I’d like to see that happen this week.”