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Senate Republicans Unveil Stimulus Proposal. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • Senate Republicans on Monday announced the $1 trillion HEALS Act, their version of a coronavirus relief bill.
  • Among other things, the bill includes cutting unemployment to $200 a week until October, another stimulus check, school and health funding, and protections for businesses. 
  • The bill does not include any money to state and local governments or any assistance to renters.
  • Democrats have opposed many provisions of the bill, setting everyone up for a battle just days before unemployment insurance expires and two weeks before Congress goes on recess.

Senate Republicans Announce HEALS Act

Following months of anticipation, Senate Republicans on Monday officially rolled out their long-awaited coronavirus relief bill proposal, the $1 trillion HEALS Act.

The proposal comes after weeks of infighting between Senate Republicans, as well as the White House, over what to put in the bill. It also comes nearly five months after the first stimulus bill, the CARES Act, was signed into law in March.

While the Democrat-led House passed its own $3 trillion stimulus bill, the HEROES Act, in early May, Senate Republicans wanted to wait to pass more coronavirus relief legislation, arguing that another was not yet needed and that the reopenings would help the economy.

Now, with widespread coronavirus spikes leading to more closures and many Americans hurting, Senate Republicans are down to the wire to pass a new coronavirus relief bill as key parts of the CARES Act are set to expire—and some already have.

Now that Republicans have hashed out a proposal, they still have to negotiate a bill with the Senate Democrats that could viably be passed by the House, and there are already some major differences between the Republican plan and what the Democrats want.

Here’s what you need to know about the major provisions in this proposal, how they measure up to Democrat proposals, what might happen moving forward, and what all of this means for the American people.

Unemployment Benefits

Likely the biggest logjam between the two parties is the question of federal unemployment benefits.

Under the first stimulus bill, all Americans who filed for unemployment got an additional $600 each week from the federal government on top of the money they were receiving from state unemployment. That extra $600 kept many people afloat, especially because normal unemployment in most states covers less than half of what a worker would normally make on the job.

The main reason this has become such a hot-button issue is because those federal benefits are set to expire in less than a week. While Democrats want to extend the $600, Republicans have argued that some people are making more off unemployment than they would at their jobs.

Under the current version of the HEALS Act, the federal government would provide a $200 a week for each unemployed worker until October. In that time, states would be required to switch over to the new system where unemployed workers would get 70% of the wages they made before.

If states cannot implement that totally new system by Oct. 5, they can request a waiver to continue the $200 for another two months.

Numerous experts have warned that states are already overwhelmed with unemployment requests and were already having trouble paying out the flat $600. As a result, they would really struggle with a major overhaul of their current system that also requires them to implement a difficult and very specific program.

Democrats have already rejected the idea of changing the state distribution method, but it’s also not their only issue.

While a state program that gives people 70% of the wages they made before they were unemployed would, in many cases, come out to more than $200 a week, the bill, as is, would cap those payments at $500. 

Notably, according to Ernie Tedeschi, an economist in the Treasury Department under Obama who spoke to The Washington Post, that means that workers in some states with low unemployment benefits who earn just $50,000 a year would hit the cap and not get the full 70% of their previous income.

In other words, no matter which way you cut it, the Senate GOP’s proposal would be a massive cut to the unemployment benefits that 30 million people—or nearly one out of every five American workers—are currently receiving.

Evictions, Funds for State & Local Governments, & Other Points of Contention

There are several other major issues between the two parties over what is in the Senate proposal—and even more significantly, what’s not.

Another one of the biggest problems for Democrats is that Republicans have explicitly said that they will not give any new money to state and local governments. Their plan does give those governments more flexibility in using the $150 billion fund approved under the last stimulus package, but it still differs significantly from the Democrats, who have long pushed for more funding.

The HEROES Act allocated $1 trillion alone to state and local governments.

Another notable item not in the plan is an extension on the federal evictions ban. That ban, known as the eviction moratorium, was signed into law under the first coronavirus relief bill and made it illegal for landlords who own buildings and homes with federal mortgages to evict renters.  

That ban, which applied to nearly a third of all American renters, expired at midnight on Friday.

Some states and cities have put their own eviction bans in place, but with the eviction ban ending, millions risk losing their homes during a pandemic.

But Republicans have nothing to address that or any other kind of relief for America’s renters. This will likely be a problem for Democrats, who have proposed not only expanding the moratorium beyond the federal level, but also extending it until next March.

Another major element of the Senate’s plan is a five-year liability shield, which would protect businesses, schools, non-profits, medical facilities, and other organizations from being sued by their employees if they contracted coronavirus on the job.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said multiple times that he will not pass a coronavirus relief bill without this provision, but Democrats have also expressed a strong desire to keep the liability provision out of the bill. 

Democrats have argued that in addition to prioritizing corporate interests, the protections it would allow businesses to mistreat their workers and put them in dangerous positions—a point they will likely push given the fact that hazard pay for essential workers was also left out of the Republican bill.

Stimulus Checks, School Funding, & Other Points of Agreement 

There are also some places where the Republicans and the Democrats agree, at least in principle.

For example, both have said they want another round of the $1,200 stimulus checks. Under the Republican plan, the checks would go out following the same formula as before—meaning the same people who got them the first time would get them again—though notably, it also has more restrictions on the checks being sent to prisoners and dead people.

The Republican bill also changes the eligibility for the extra $500 per each child dependent, so that families with dependents over 17 years old can get the money, unlike last time, which capped the extra payment at kids 16 and under.

The Democrats plan is basically the same, except that under the package passed by the House, dependents would also receive $1,200.

There is also bipartisan support for another round of support for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Under the Republican plan, there would be another wave of PPP that better targets small businesses, which is something Dems also seem on board with too.

Both sides of the aisle also agree that more there needs to be an expansion of funding for schools and health, though they have each proposed different amounts. In terms of schools, The GOP plan includes $105 billion for K-12 and higher education.

While the House bill allocated a similar amount at $100 billion, Senate Democrats have said they want $430 billion for schools.

Regarding healthcare, Republicans have proposed $16 billion for expanding testing and contact tracing and $26 billion for vaccine development and distribution, but it is unclear how much Dems want, especially because the House bill allocated $75 billion for the same areas.

What Now?

Despite certain bipartisan measures, Republicans and Democrats are clearly set up for a battle.

While rolling out his proposal Monday, McConnell appeared to hit on that note, calling on his Democratic colleagues to “put aside partisan stonewalling,” and “rediscover the sense of urgency that got the CARES Act across the finish line.”

Democrats, for their part, have slammed the Republicans for waiting so long to give them a bill they knew they would have objections too.

While speaking to reporters Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) criticized Republican bill, calling it a “half-hearted, half-baked legislative proposal,” and “too little, too late.”

“The lack of any urgency, understanding, and empathy for people who need help from Senate Republicans has led us to a very precarious moment,” he said, before specifically taking aim at the unemployment proposal.

“The Republican proposal on unemployment benefits, simply put, is unworkable, he added. The idea that we need to drastically reduce these benefits because workers will stay home otherwise is greatly exaggerated.”

Pelosi also made similar remarks after a meeting she had yesterday with top White House officials, where both she and Schumer said that there is still a big gap between Democrats and Republicans.

But that’s not the only gap. There are also divisions among the Senate Republicans, many of whom do not want another coronavirus relief package at all.

Already, some major Republicans have said they will vote against the bill, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.).

“There is significant resistance to yet another trillion dollars,” he said Monday.“As it stands now, I think it’s likely that you’ll see a number of Republicans in opposition to this bill and expressing serious concerns.”

Even before the bill was officially rolled out, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.) also made a similar prediction on Sunday.

“Half the Republicans are going to vote no to any phase 4 package, that’s just a fact,” he told Fox News.

Clearly, there is a long road ahead, but notably, there is not much time. In addition to unemployment benefits expiring at the end of this week, Congress is also scheduled to take a recess starting Aug. 7. That gives them just two weeks to figure everything out. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (NPR)

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California to Ban the Sale of New Gas-Powered Cars by 2035

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  • California Governor Newsom (D) signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at banning sales of new gasoline vehicles by 2035.
  • The ban will not prevent anyone from owning or even selling a used gas-powered vehicle.
  • While many environmentalist groups praised Newsom for the order, they noted that California will need to be proactive to accomplish the goal in its current time frame. Some even criticized Newsom for not going a step further by also limiting oil and gas production. 
  • Despite this, Newsom announced a goal to end new fracking permits by 2024, which was later condemned by many energy companies.
  • Because California has such a massive influence, many believe other states could follow its lead, causing ripple effects in the car market.

Newsom Announces Gas-Powered Car Ban for 2035

As part of an “ambitious” new goal, California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) issued an executive order on Wednesday meant to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035.

“I think it’s self-evident to anybody who’s been paying any attention about [the] state of California that we’ve been suffering and struggling through simultaneous crises,” Newsom when announcing the order.

“Of all the simultaneous crises that we face as a state, and I would argue as a nation — and for that matter, from a global perspective — none is more impactful, none is more forceful than the issue of the climate crisis. And that’s exactly what we’re advancing here today is a strategy to address that crisis head-on, to be as bold as the problem is big.” 

In part, Newsom’s order directs regulators to develop a plan that would require automakers to steadily sell more zero-emissions vehicles, with the state completely phasing out the sale of new gas-powered passenger vehicles in just 15 fifteen years. This order will not ban people from owning, driving, or even selling used cars that rely on gas. 

Among other measures, the order sets a goal to make all medium and heavy-duty vehicles on the road zero emissions by 2045, “where feasible.”

It also directs state transportation agencies to “identify near-term actions” that would build infrastructure such as “an integrated, statewide rail and transit network” or that would “[support] bicycle, pedestrian, and micro-mobility options, particularly in low-income and disadvantaged communities in the State.”

Is This Goal Feasible?

One of the biggest challenges to this goal is its feasibility. 

As experts have pointed out, increasing the production and sale of emissions-free vehicles in the state over a relatively short period of time will be a massive hurdle.  

Last year, only about 8% of passenger vehicles in the state were either electric or hybrid. On top of that, California would need to increase financial incentives for electric vehicles since they tend to be pricier. It would also need to drastically expand its charging infrastructure. 

Still, Newsom stressed in his Wednesday announcement that over 40% of the state’s carbon emissions come directly from transportation. In fact, transportation even outpaces the industrial, agricultural, and residential sectors combined.

It’s not impossible to think that this goal could become a reality. As Don Anair, deputy director of the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The New York Times: “It’s feasible, but it’s going to take California pulling all the levers at its disposal.” 

California isn’t the first place to announce a phasing out of gas-powered vehicles. Fifteen other countries — including Britain, Denmark, and Norway — have all set similar goals; however, California is the first government in the United States to set such aggressive goals.

Environmentalists Express Concerns Over Oil and Gas

While many environmentalists praised the order, that also doesn’t mean they’re fully satisfied with it. Many have pointed out that California is one of the country’s largest oil and gas producers.

In recent years, energy companies in the state have used fracking to unlock new fossil-fuel reserves. Because of that, Kassie Siegel, the director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Times:  “Setting a timeline to eliminate petroleum vehicles is a big step, but Newsom’s announcement provided rhetoric rather than real action on the other critical half of the climate problem — California’s dirty oil production.”

“Newsom can’t claim climate leadership while handing out permits to oil companies to drill and frack,” she added.

In his order, Newsom set a goal to end new permits for fracking by 2024. He also said he would work to help the state’s energy industry move away from its reliance on oil and gas. 

Regarding why he did not issue an executive order banning fracking, he said he lacks the authority to do so on his own. Therefore, he called on the state legislature to enact such a ban. 

Online Criticism and Criticism from Energy Companies

Energy companies offered even sharper words following Newson’s announcement of his fracking goals.

“Let’s be clear: Today’s announcement to curb in-state production of energy will put thousands of workers in the Central Valley, Los Angeles basin, and Central Coast on the state’s overloaded unemployment program, drive up energy costs when consumers can least afford it, and hurt California’s fight to lower global greenhouse gas emissions,” Rock Zierman, chief executive of the California Independent Petroleum Association.

Many online also criticized Newsom’s goals, with one person saying, “You are going to ruin California’s economy and people will lose their jobs.”

California’s Move Could Send a Ripple Across Other States

California is the fifth-largest economy in the world, and it’s not unlikely to think that pressure on auto companies from the state could prompt other states to increase their electric vehicle usage as well.

“We’ve seen this show before, where California does something, and others jump on board,” veteran auto industry analyst Karl Brauer told The Washington Post.

“If you want to reduce asthma,” Newson said Wednesday, “if you want to mitigate the rise of sea level, if you want to mitigate a loss of ice sheets around the globe, then this is a policy for other states to follow.”

Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia already follow California’s fuel-efficiency standards; however, the Trump administration is currently challenging California’s long-standing authority to set those standards for itself.

Because of that, last year, California and nearly two dozen other states sued the Trump administration for the right to set their own standards.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Social Media Companies Roll Out New Features to Prepare for a Contentious Election

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  • As the election draws closer, most of the major social media platforms have started announcing new policy changes to prepare for Nov. 3.
  • YouTube said Thursday that it was expanding its use of information panels to content regarding mail-in voting, as well as searches concerning federal candidates, voter registration, and other queries about how to vote.
  • Last week, Twitter rolled out its new election information hub which it said will provide resources on mail-in ballots, how to register for the election, and information about congressional and gubernatorial candidates.
  • Earlier this month, Facebook announced a series of updates, including adding labels to certain posts made by politicians who declare victory in an election before the final results are in. On Wednesday, it said it was expanding the policy to prevent politicians from running ads claiming victory before the results are finalized.

YouTube’s New Policies

Social media platforms are preparing for what is widely expected to be an inflammatory and highly contentious election cycle by announcing a series of new tools and policies.

On Thursday, YouTube rolled out several features it says are aimed at combatting election misinformation. In a blog post, the company announced that it is expanding the use of information panels under videos that address “well-established topics that are subject to misinformation, such as the moon landing or COVID-19”

Most significantly, YouTube will now start adding information panels under videos about voting by mail that will direct viewers to “authoritative information from the Bipartisan Policy Center, a bipartisan think tank.”

Additionally, the platform will also have panels pop up whenever users search for presidential or Congressional candidates, voter registration, or queries about how to vote.

Those who conduct searches regarding voter registration will see a panel that provides information on “deadlines, registration options, and an easy way to check the status of your registration.” 

Searches for “how to vote” will direct users to a panel that links out to Google’s “how to vote” feature, with information concerning “ID requirements, registration and voting deadlines, and guidance for different means of voting, like in person or mail.”

Twitter‘s Policies

In addition to YouTube, Twitter has also recently announced several new measures in preparation for the election.

Last week, the platform rolled out its new voting information hub. Much like YouTube’s plans with information panels, Twitter’s hub will include facts on mail-in ballots and how to register for the election

The centralized resource center will also provide users with as information about congressional and gubernatorial candidates and “localized news and resources” based on the state each lives in.

In a separate announcement last week, the company also said that it was working to better secure high-profile accounts in the wake of the election, including those of politicians, political organizations, large media outlets, and journalists.

Facebook‘s Policies

Facebook, for its part, is easily facing the most pressure to put safeguards in place ahead of Nov. 3, due to the platform’s oversized role in the spread of misinformation during the 2016 election.

Earlier this month, the company announced a series of new changes. Among other things, Facebook said it would not run new political ads the week before the election and that it would add labels to certain posts, including those made by politicians who declare victory in an election before the final results are in. 

On Wednesday, Facebook also said that it was expanding its policy preventing politicians from declaring an early victory in posts to also stop them from doing so in ads.

Regarding actions the platforms claims it will take after the election, during an interview with the Financial Times earlier this week, Facebook’s head of global affairs said the company will take serious steps to “restrict the circulation of content” on the platform the if presidential election descends into widespread chaos or violent unrest.

While some have applauded these changes, many have said that Facebook needs to do more leading up to the election, and not just implement its strongest policies after.

Throughout the election cycle, this broader criticism is one that has been made a lot with regards to Facebook. In addition to continually receiving backlash for not doing enough, the company has also been widely criticized by many people who believe the so-called “sweeping changes” Facebook says it has implemented are barely changes at all, or end up being widely ineffective.

Just this week, a number of recent reports have detailed major flaws and failures with systems the company has put into place. 

In an article published Wednesday, CNN outlined the findings from an analysis of Facebook’s ad transparency data by the activist group Avaaz.

“Facebook allowed political advertisers to target hundreds of misleading ads about Joe Biden and the US Postal Service to swing-state voters ranging from Florida to Wisconsin in recent weeks, in an apparent failure to enforce its own platform rules less than two months before Election Day,” the outlet wrote.

The report also noted that ads being run by both Pro-Donald Trump and Pro-Democrat PACs that appeared to violate Facebook’s guidelines were left up and attracted millions of views.

Also on Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that a watchdog group found serious issues with the content monitoring system Facebook has encouraged elections authorities to use to identify voting misinformation in their states.

Bloomberg went on to note that the tool “doesn’t effectively monitor most posts on the social media service, including those in private groups or from most individual users,” or Instagram accounts with less than 75,000 followers. 

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (CNN) (Bloomberg)

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Rep. Gaetz Calls for Investigation After Bloomberg Pays Florida Felons’ Debts To Clear Them for Voting

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  • Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg raised $16 million to pay outstanding fees for 32,000 felons in Florida, making them eligible to vote in November.
  • The move comes about a week after an appeals court upheld a law that requires felons to pay all outstanding fees before they can vote, effectively preventing hundreds of thousands of people from casting ballots in the crucial swing state. 
  • That court ruling follows years of legal battles over a ballot measure passed overwhelmingly by Florida voters in 2018 which allowed most felons to vote after they completed their parole and probation periods.
  • Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz claimed Bloomberg’s actions were illegal, saying they are considered providing “something of value to impact whether or not someone votes,” and called for the matter to be investigated.

Florida Voting Rights 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) claimed Tuesday that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg acted illegally when he helped raise $16 million to cover the court debts of felons in Florida so that they could be eligible to vote in the November election.

Bloomberg’s contribution comes after a years-long legal battle in Florida concerning the voting rights of felons.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a measure in 2018 to end the state’s lifetime ban on most felons voting. That measure, known as Amendment 4, effectively restored the voting rights of felons who had completed their parole and probation periods, with the exception of those who had been convicted of sex crimes or of murder. Around 1.5 million people —  nearly 10% of the state’s adult population — were given the ability to vote.

Despite the fact that ending the ban had bipartisan support among Florida voters, shortly after Amendment 4 took effect, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed legislation requiring felons to pay off all outstanding debts in order to be eligible to vote, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law in June 2019.

Under the law, roughly 775,000 felons still who owed fines related to their convictions would not be able to vote until they paid them off. That number included some of the estimated 85,000 who had already registered to vote since Amendment 4 went into effect in January 2019.

However, the state offered almost no assistance for felons to determine how much they owed, or even if they owed anything at all. Officials even explicitly said it would take around six years to make a database for felons to look up their debts.

The Republican’s law immediately faced a number of legal challenges, and in May of this year,  district court judge Robert Hinkle struck down the law, ruling that it was an unconstitutional “pay-to-vote system.”

In his decision, Hinkle argued that an “overwhelming majority” of the felons would not be able to pay their debts or even figure out how much they owed. He went so far as to say that the law amounted to a poll tax.

However, a federal appeals court blocked his order from going into effect while it considered the case, thus effectively allowing the law to stay in place. In July, the Supreme Court refused to overturn the federal appeals court’s decision to block felons from voting while they decided the case.

Then, just over a week ago, the appeals court delivered its final judgment, deciding in a 6-4 ruling that the Republican’s law was not unconstitutional, and that felons would be required to pay fees in order to vote.

Bloomberg’s Donations

The move prompted significant outrage, and civil rights groups representing the felons said they would keep fighting.

But with just weeks to go before the election — and even less time before Florida’s Oct. 5 voter registration deadline — it would be almost impossible for yet another full-scale legal battle to be resolved in their favor.

With little hope for any kind of sweeping legal change, many people instead began paying the fines felons owed so that they could vote. The effort, which has been spearheaded by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), specifically focuses on Black and Hispanic voters who are already registered and who owe debts that are less than $1,500.

According to the FRRC, the list of people who have donated to their cause includes Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and John Legend. 

The largest donation so far, however, appears to be from Bloomberg and his team. The contribution, which the former mayor announced in a statement Tuesday, comes just after he pledged to give at least $100 million to elect Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Florida.

According to a memo accessed by The Washington Post, Bloomberg viewed the contribution as a more cost-effective way to get more Democratic votes in the state than persuading other voters.

“We have identified a significant vote share that requires a nominal investment. The data shows that in Florida, Black voters are a unique universe unlike any other voting bloc, where the Democratic support rate tends to be 90%-95%,” the memo allegedly read.

Although Bloomberg’s efforts are political, Desmond Meade, the president of the FRRC, emphasized in a statement to The Post that the group is nonpartisan and does not share Bloomberg’s goal of encouraging just one political party.

Gaetz Claims Bloomberg’s Donations are Illegal

While Meade said Bloomberg’s donation does not dictate how the FRRC is operating, others, including Gaetz, have raised legal questions regarding the move.

“[Under Florida law] it’s a third-degree felony for someone to either directly or indirectly provide something of value to impact whether or not someone votes. So the question is whether or not paying off someone’s fines and legal obligations counts as something of value, and it clearly does,” the representative explained when speaking with Fox New’s Sean Hannity Tuesday night.

“If Michael Bloomberg was offering to pay off people’s credit card debts, you would obviously see the value in that. When you improve someone’s net worth by eliminating their financial liabilities, that’s something of value.”

“I believe there may be a criminal investigation already underway of the Bloomberg-connected activities in Florida,” he added, noting that he had spoken with Florida’s Attorney General.

The existence of a criminal probe has not been confirmed by any law enforcement officials. Bloomberg, for his part, has not yet responded to the accusations.

In a matter as politically charged as felon voting rights, it is probable that both sides will pull out all the stops. Especially because, in a state as heavily contested as Florida, adding felons to the voter rolls could actually sway the election.

In 2016, President Donald Trump only won Florida in 2016 by 1.2 percentage points — less than 113,000 vote difference. Right now, polls from the state show Trump and Biden in a dead heat.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Politico) (The New York Post)

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