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April 2, 2020

WBUR: What’s On Mass. Lawmakers’ Wish List For The Next Coronavirus Recovery Bill?

There was no joking this week as the COVID-19 crisis moves toward what will likely be an unimaginable apex — and lawmakers are already looking ahead to the next emergency legislation to help America weather the viral storm.

Lawmakers Already Listing Relief Measures For The Next Bill

The $2.2 trillion emergency recovery bill won’t provide relief beyond next month for most Americans, Massachusetts lawmakers said, as they laid out their priorities for the next measure.

One goal is giving Americans at least one more round of direct cash payments, beyond the distribution of up to $1,200 per adult already headed to households beginning next week.

“That is likely going to have to be revisited again,” Rep. Richard Neal told reporters yesterday on a call with the House delegation from Massachusetts. Neal said other measures, like rolling back the cap on state and local tax deductions, should also be considered.

Rep. Jim McGovern said the next bill should also give another temporary boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP — benefits.

“We have to pay attention to those who literally don’t know where the next meal is going to come from,” McGovern said.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley prioritized extending the emergency benefits to immigrants.

“These are taxpaying workers and families who won’t be able to access the resources to weather this crisis,” Pressleys said. “It’s shameful.”

Other measures lawmakers floated include additional relief for those in the restaurant and fishing industries, as well as help for Amtrak and other mass transit systems.

On the Senate side, Sen. Elizabeth Warren filed a bill that would fund local efforts to help individuals and families who are homeless. It’s a companion measure to legislation sponsored in the House by Pressley.

And Sen. Ed Markey co-sponsored legislation that would bar utility companies from disconnecting service to consumers, hiking rates or charging other fees during the pandemic crisis.

But As DC Self-Isolates, A Crucial Question Of Timing Looms

With much of the nation under stay-at-home orders, just when and how will lawmakers be able vet, debate and vote on the next legislative package?

Congress’ scheduled April 20 return to Washington is unlikely. House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark told me members are figuring out ways to legislate outside of the Beltway.

“We have been … having caucus-wide conference calls, answering questions, getting people’s ideas, and Speaker (Nancy Pelosi) is working the chairmen of committees to start to put to together a plan for how we would be able to hold hearings and do our work,” from home districts, Clark said.

“We are unsure at this point when Congress will be coming into session in Washington, but we are much aware that our responsibilities do not cease,” she continued.

McGovern, who chairs the House Rules Committee, said he is working to find ways to hold tele-hearings and looking for other methods to engage from afar.

“We have a job to do and we need to do it,” McGovern said. “And we are going to figure out the best way to succeed.”

Markey, Warren And Sanders Want COVID-19 News From Experts, Not Trump

The Massachusetts senators joined their Vermont colleague Bernie Sanders in a letter asking the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to be in charge of providing information to the public and press corps about COVID-19.

They expressed concern that the news coming from President Trump, the White House and other administration officials has been at times — in a word — fake.

“Conflicting messages from the Trump administration have caused confusion and chaos in the national response,” the senators wrote in their letter.

They said that although officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health are “capable and well-qualified” to address many of the questions that lawmakers still have about the virus and federal response, they don’t want to rely on the White House.

“We have seen the Trump administration’s willingness to stifle the ability of these agencies to communicate openly with the public,” the letter said. “The public needs a trusted authority outside of the executive branch.”

3 More Things:

— Delegation Asks FEMA To Explain Delay In Getting Essential Equipment To Massachusetts:

A letter from the full delegation, led by Markey and Pressley, raised concerns about the slow pace of distribution of protective equipment like masks and gowns to the state. It also questioned the lack of transparency about the process.

“Massachusetts has still received significantly less than even the Commonwealth’s initial request from the Strategic National Stockpile,” the letter said.

In a separate letter Warren sought information about why states like Massachusetts are being outbid for such equipment by other states and the federal government.

And Neal asked Vice President Mike Pence for explanation of how the administration decides which states get what equipment.

— Markey Blasts Trump Administration For Weakening Emissions Standards: 

Markey said the rule, which the administration says will lower automobile prices, will “result in vehicles that are more polluting, more expensive, and less safe.”

“As we learn about how coronavirus is more deadly to people with existing lung conditions, it is especially appalling that Trump would decide to issue a rule now that will result in more dirty air pollution,” Markey, co-author of the Green New Deal, said in a statement. “Even during this health and economic emergency, the rollback of the clean vehicles standards shows that the Trump administration will never waver from its top priority: boosting Big Oil.”

— Warren Presses Gig Economy CEOs To Classify Delivery Workers As Employees: 

In a letter to the heads of DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats and Instacart, Warren called the designation of the workers as independent contractors a “misclassification” that denies them key employment and labor safety protections.

“Delivery workers are experiencing serious health and economic vulnerabilities as a result of their jobs, and your company is failing to provide appropriate and necessary protections,” Warren wrote.