Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who on Monday announced their latest effort to pass a coronavirus relief package before the end of the year, calling it a sign of hope for the many people and businesses hard-hit by the virus this winter.
The overall package is similar to a stalled effort already put forward but splits the $908 billion relief package in two with relatively noncontroversial measures like boosted unemployment, money for schools, another round of payment protection program payments and vaccine distribution in one $748 billion package.
The second measure of about $160 billion would contain relief money for state, local and tribal governments, a progressive and moderate priority, with measures that would shield businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits, a Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell priority.
It does not include direct stimulus payments for individuals, though there is pressure for such a measure from Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who’ve threatened to hold up the latest proposal.
At a briefing on Monday, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives praised latest proposal as a hard-fought and reasonable compromise given the need to pass something before the end of the year. What money remains from the initial stimulus package passed nine months ago must be spent by the end of the year or state and local governments must return the money to the feds as coronavirus cases continue to climb.
“This is hope for the food banks that I’ve been talking to just last week who came together on a call to me to say unprecedented what we’ve been seeing around the state in terms of the need of individuals who are coming to the food banks. People who have never been to the foodbank before, except to be there as volunteers. Now they’re there as consumers,” she said. “This is hope for the small businesses that right now are struggling as we have all come indoors for the winter. There’s no dining outside in Alaska or Maine or New Hampshire. This is hope, this is hope for those who have been asking their congress to be responsive of what they have seen in the face of this pandemic.”
Direct relief to states and local governments has been a growing priority as the pandemic has decimated revenue for several states and local governments. Though some have found ways to swap around funds to—such as Anchorage’s use of CARES Act funding to pay for some emergency responder services—it has fallen short of repairing budgets and could mean future cuts to local services.
Murkowski highlighted the fact that the $160 billion package for government relief would also go to tribal governments, which she said is critically important for Alaska where the virus has hit Alaska Natives particularly hard.
“As someone who comes from a state where half the tribes in the country happen to be in Alaska, I can tell you this tribal assistance is pretty important. For those that have been the most immediately impacted from a health disparity perspective, from the issue of just overall disparities, our Native people, American Indians, Alaska Natives are hurting and hurting bad,” she said. “Making sure these come together as one is going to continue to be our priority.”
Congressional leadership is set to meet today to discuss the relief bill as well as a government funding bill needed to avert a government shutdown at the end of the week.