Ernst outlines priorities for next virus relief bill, but timing is uncertain

Sen. Joni Ernst speaks during a video her office produced about her tele-town hall on May 20, 2020.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst on Thursday outlined some of her priorities for the next coronavirus relief package, but acknowledged it was unclear how soon Senate Republicans might move ahead with a bill.

Ernst, in a call with Iowa reporters, said she has joined a bipartisan group of senators proposing additional funding for child care as part of a fourth coronavirus relief package.  She said she’s also working with senators of both parties to ensure new parents can access the $500 provided in the CARES Act on top of the $1,200 direct payment.

Without a change in the legislation, parents of children born during the COVID-19 pandemic would have to wait until they file their tax returns in 2021 to get the $500.  “And that just doesn’t make sense. These new parents, at such an important time in their lives, need this assistance now, not a year from now,” Ernst said.

Ernst is also proposing a new tax credit for working family caregivers and said she’d like to see, “at a minimum,” a modified or temporary version of her bill in the next relief package.  The Credit for Caring Act would provide a tax credit of up to $3,000 to assist with out-of-pocket expenses related to caregiving, including transportation, home modifications to accommodate a family member, medication management services and training or education for the caregiver, she said.

“While family caregiver shortages existed prior to the onset of COVID-19, this current crisis is only amplifying the critical work they do to support the daily needs of those who may be at greater risk to this virus, and who require greater support at home,” Ernst said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected $3 trillion relief package approved last week in the House.

“So what I can say is we will not take up the Heroes Act. What we do need to do is make sure we are focused on the pandemic,” Ernst said. “There were a number of House Democrats that actually voted against the Heroes Act. I think that’s kind of telling that they really did not want to see a lot of the extraneous policy extraneous spending they put into that bill.”

She said she would expect to see “some movement” on the next phase of coronavirus relief in the coming weeks.  But she also acknowledged that McConnell is holding out for approval of controversial corporate liability relief for businesses.

“We do want to see liability protections in place and Leader McConnell has made it very, very clear to the Democrats, if they do want to see a Phase Four bill, it must include liability protections for our businesses,” Ernst said.

That could stand in the way of action on the legislation.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said Democrats do not favor offering immunity to companies against COVID-19-related claims.  “At the time of this coronavirus challenge, especially now, we have every reason to protect our workers and our patients in all of this,” she told reporters last month. “So we would not be inclined to be supporting any immunity from liability.”