Washington, D.C. –– Tonight, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet released the statement below following Senate passage of a bipartisan package that includes a new Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) relief bill, an omnibus spending bill, and several other pieces of legislation:
“I have called for the Senate to pass additional relief since May, and we should not have waited seven months to act while families, frontline workers, and small businesses faced severe hardship through no fault of their own. This is an important step but it's not the end of our responsibility. The country faces hard months ahead as we work to distribute the vaccine and get the economy back on track. When the Senate returns in January, we must be prepared to act again to provide the necessary relief to overcome this crisis.”
The Senate passed the bill 91-7, following an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives tonight. The final package reflects several priorities Bennet has pushed for since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
Bennet’s priorities in the COVID-19 relief bill include:
- Direct Payments: The bill provides a one-time direct payment of $600 to most Americans to help offset lost income and cover essential expenses. While this payment is smaller than Bennet would have preferred, it includes important modifications from the previous direct payments in the CARES Act. Specifically, it ensures that children receive the same level of direct payment as adults, and it includes children and adults in mixed-status immigrant families both for these payments and those authorized in the CARES Act. Bennet and several colleagues have called for recurring direct payments since March.
- Support for the Unemployed: The bipartisan agreement provides an 11-week extension of emergency unemployment programs – including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for the self-employed and gig workers, as well as extended benefits through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program for all workers. Importantly, it waives the 13-week waiting period for Extended Benefits (EB) that wrongly cut off 16,000 Coloradans from benefits at the end of November. Bennet worked closely with Governor Jared Polis and the Colorado Congressional Delegation to secure this important language. The agreement also includes an additional $300 per week on top of regular unemployment benefits for the 11-week extension. Since March, Bennet has urged even stronger support for the unemployed.
- Support for Small Businesses: The bill includes $325 billion in new small business support through an additional round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), more funding for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), and support for the hardest-hit businesses like concert venues, movie theaters, and cultural institutions through the Save Our Stages Act. Importantly, this assistance is better targeted to the hardest-hit small businesses, including through another $12 billion in funding for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs), along with a set-aside for businesses with fewer than 10 employees so they can access funding without having to compete with larger businesses. Bennet is disappointed the agreement did not include the full RESTART Act, his bipartisan proposal with U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) with 60 cosponsors to support the hardest-hit businesses. However, the inclusion of the Save Our Stages Act, which Bennet supported; the improvements to PPP; and the support for CDFIs, MDIs, and the set-aside for the smallest employers reflect some of the core principles of the RESTART Act Bennet has championed since May.
- Investments in Health: The bill provides $69 billion for the public health and health care system to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, including roughly $20 billion to procure vaccines and therapeutics, nearly $9 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and states for distribution, and more than $3 billion for the Strategic National Stockpile. New vaccination support funding includes $300 million specifically designated for high-risk and underserved areas, including communities of color. The bill also provides over $22 billion in direct funding for states to support testing, tracing, and COVID-19 mitigation programs, including $2.5 billion specifically targeted for underserved areas, including rural areas and communities of color. This funding will provide a critical bridge for public health agencies until the next Congress, when Bennet will work with the incoming Biden Administration to pass his Health Force proposal with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
- Support for Education and Other State and Local Efforts: The bipartisan agreement includes $82 billion for education – including $54 billion for K-12 schools and nearly $23 billion for higher education. It also includes $45 billion for transportation to support public transit, Amtrak, airports, and other critical transport needs. Bennet fought for substantial fiscal relief for state and local governments, which Senate Republicans blocked. Bennet strongly believes the Senate should provide fiscal support to state and local governments early next year.
- Emergency Rental Assistance: In addition to extending the national eviction moratorium for another month, through January 31, 2021, the bill includes $25 billion in emergency rental assistance to help cover past and future rent payments for those facing economic hardship from the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, many families faced eviction and homelessness as rents rose faster than incomes. For this reason, Bennet crafted the bipartisan Eviction Crisis Act with U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Todd Young (R-Ind.). The core of that legislation is emergency rental assistance.
- Increased Support for Food Assistance: The bill includes $13 billion for food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), food banks, and other support to provide nutrition to families, children, and seniors. The 15% increase in SNAP benefits in the bill reflects what Bennet and U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) proposed and have fought to include for the last seven months.
- Investments in Broadband: The bill provides $3.2 billion to provide low-income and recently unemployed households with a new $50 monthly benefit to purchase broadband, with a $75 benefit for eligible households on Tribal lands. This new program is based on the bill Bennet co-sponsored in June. The bill also provides funding to overhaul federal broadband maps and provides $1 billion for broadband access on Tribal lands, both of which mirror provisions in Bennet’s BRIDGE Act, which he introduced this June with U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine).
- Support for Low-Income Families and Workers: The package allows low-income workers and families to choose to use either their 2019 income or their 2020 income to determine their Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), so those whose incomes declined in 2020 do not see income from these tax credits decline as well. This change will provide more than $4 billion to some of the most vulnerable families and frontline workers.
Bennet’s other priorities in the package include:
- Ending Surprise Medical Bills: The bill includes provisions similar to a bipartisan proposal Bennet introduced last May with U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to protect patients from surprise medical bills. Bennet launched a bipartisan working group in 2018 to work on solutions to increase transparency and lower health care costs for patients, which led to the bipartisan legislation.
- Simplifying Student Aid: The final agreement simplifies the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by making it easier to apply for aid and making aid amounts more predictable. Bennet and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) have worked on this since 2014. Specifically, this bill reduces the number of questions on the form from 108 to 36 by having the application use family income data verified by the IRS. The bill also expands outreach and improves the application process for students transitioning out of foster care and students experiencing homelessness.
- Modernizing Drug Labels: The bill includes a bipartisan proposal Bennet introduced in June 2019 with U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and first introduced in September 2018 with former U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to authorize the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to modify outdated drug labels to reflect relevant new information.
- Supporting Colorado’s Rural Hospitals: The bill provides a five-year extension for the Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Program, which provides cost-based reimbursement for small rural hospitals that are too large to be Critical Access Hospitals, providing years of financial certainty and more appropriate Medicare reimbursement for these rural providers. This affects five hospitals in Colorado, including Delta County Memorial Hospital, Yampa Valley Medical Center, Montrose Memorial Hospital, Valley View Hospital, and St. Anthony Summit Medical Center. Bennet co-authored this bill with U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
- Investing in Clean Energy & Fighting Climate Change: The bill provides nearly $2.9 billion in funding, a record, for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy--including fully funding Colorado’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) facilities and infrastructure. The bill also provides $3.75 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to assist families with energy costs. The bill extends numerous energy tax credits that will help create jobs, spur investment, and tackle climate change. The bill also includes a number of energy bills Bennet cosponsored, including a landmark bill to phase-out climate-warming hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, which improves permitting and sets national goals for siting renewable energy on public lands.
- Stopping Invasive Species and Restoring Ecosystems: The bill incorporates parts of Bennet’s bipartisan bill, the Stop the Spread of Invasive Mussels Act, to ensure that funding for watercraft inspection stations can also be used for decontamination, and requires that inspection stations be placed in locations with the highest likelihood of preventing the spread of invasive species. The bill also supports flood risk management and ecosystem restoration projects in Denver and Adams Counties.
- Remediating and Cleaning Up Harmful Chemicals: The bill adds $91 million for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) remediation, research, and disposal of aqueous film-forming foam for total funding of $227 million. The bill also reauthorizes the Cheney Disposal Site in Grand Junction, Colorado through Fiscal Year 2031.
- Supporting the Arkansas Valley Conduit: The bill provides over $8 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Bennet has repeatedly fought for increased funding for this project.
- Deploying High-Speed Broadband: The bill includes $635 million in funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ReConnect program to support deployment of high-speed broadband in unserved and rural communities. Bennet has advocated for increased ReConnect funding as a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.
- Supporting Colorado’s Military Bases: The bill includes $88 million for construction of the Consolidated Space Operations Facility at Schriever Air Force Base (AFB); $28 million for the physical fitness facility at Fort Carson, along with nearly $16 million for the Tactical Equipment Maintenance Facility; and $15 million for the National Guard Readiness Center at Peterson AFB. Bennet advocated for inclusion of each of these funding lines. Notably, the Consolidated Space Operations Facility is set for groundbreaking next summer and will support the National Space Defense Center at Schriever AFB.
- Supporting Our Intelligence Community: The agreement includes the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence approved on a 14-1 vote in June. The bill ensures that the Intelligence Community (IC) can continue its vital work while Congress maintains oversight. It includes a Bennet provision to enhance U.S. capabilities in artificial intelligence (AI) and secure semiconductor supply chains by mapping vulnerabilities and identifying opportunities for collaboration with partners and allies, and assess trends in compute power of adversarial nations. It also includes a Bennet provision to bolster open source intelligence capabilities across the IC by requiring a comprehensive strategy and data management plan.
- Supporting Affordable Housing: The package creates a permanent 4% rate floor on the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), which Bennet has long advocated for to provide reliable financing for additional affordable housing. This is projected to support an additional 126,000 affordable homes and 157,000 jobs over the next decade.
- Bolstering Our Food Supply: The agreement includes $13 billion to support farmers, ranchers, processors, and distributors across the country. This includes loans and grants to help producers respond to the changing market conditions and COVID-19-related health and safety needs. It also provides $28 million to support farmer and rancher mental health, and provides $60 million for grants to small meat and poultry processing facilities to upgrade their facilities and expand their markets, drawing on legislation Bennet cosponsored.