5 pandemic relief issues not addressed by Trump's executive actions

With congressional negotiations on ice, some priorities hang in the balance.

August 10, 2020, 1:14 PM

Although President Donald Trump this past weekend signed executive actions to address some of his administration's most pressing priorities on COVID-19 relief, many congressional priorities have been left out.

Trump issued an executive order and three memoranda on Saturday dealing with unemployment benefits, protections for renters and home owners, a payroll tax deferral and a deferral of student loans.

He branded the move as swift administrative action after congressional Democrats failed to act and negotiations stalled.

But members of both political parties on Capitol Hill had concerns not covered by the executive actions - issues they call essential.

In addition, the president has limited authority to mandate federal funding, which, under the Constitution, Congress must approve.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump signs an executive orders extending coronavirus economic relief, during a news conference in Bedminster, N.J., on Aug.8, 2020.
President Donald Trump signs an executive orders extending coronavirus economic relief, during a news conference in Bedminster, N.J., on Aug.8, 2020.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Here's a look at five key congressional priorities on COVID-19 relief not included in Trump's executive actions.

1. Support for schools

President Trump addressed the needs of some students who have taken on debt to fund their schooling, but for millions of students returning to elementary, secondary and university classrooms in the coming weeks, Trump's executive actions do little to help them.

As the virus continues to rage in the U.S., school administrators have said they need more funding to implement Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to keep students safe in the classroom, including assistance in creating more classroom space for socially distanced learning, funding for additional sanitation, and in many cases, financial assistance to launch partial or complete remote learning.

Congressional proposals from both Democrats and Republicans included funding for schools. The initial Democrat proposal including $1 billion to assist schools, and the initial Republican counter-proposal included $105 billion. That money would have gone to schools and universities to help them implement safety standards for students.

2. Additional aid for testing, treating and vaccine development

In most of the congressional negotiations, both parties agreed that additional funding for health care needs and vaccine development would be an essential part of the next COVID-19 relief package.

Democrats have argued that testing and treating is an essential lifesaving measure until a vaccine is on the market, and have advocated for funding on these fronts as well as vaccine development.

"We have to have this comprehensive, strategic testing and that leads to tracing and then that leads to treatment, et cetera," House Speaker Pelosi said on CNBC Thursday.

Republicans have also advocated funding for rapid vaccine development, arguing that the economy cannot fully recover until the virus is tamped down.

But Trump's executive actions on Saturday do not address any health-based aspects of the pandemic. There is no additional aid for health care providers in his actions, nor is there emphasis on testing, treatment or vaccination.

3. Support for the Paycheck Protection Program

Five million small and mid-sized businesses across the country are currently surviving in part because of a federal program implemented in the last stage of coronavirus relief that allows businesses to take out forgivable loans from the federal government in order to keep employees on their payrolls.

The window to apply for funding through this program has now passed despite the fact that some funding for loans remains.

Congress was torn on how to proceed with funding the program, but the belief that at least some sort of aid to small businesses was necessary enjoyed fairly broad bi-partisan support in Congress.

Without the program, many small businesses could go under, potentially increasing the amount of people requiring federal unemployment insurance. Though Trump did address unemployment on Saturday, he made no mention of the Paycheck Protection Program.

4. Assistance to state and local governments

State and local governments that are in some cases cash-strapped after surging funds to combat the virus, would receive no additional support under Trump's executive actions.

A centerpiece of the Democrat-proposed relief legislation is $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments. Republicans are cool to the idea, arguing that much of the state and local funding allocated in the previous coronavirus relief package had not been utilized by the states.

In a CNBC interview Monday morning, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called the $1 trillion proposal "absurd."

President Trump has argued that many states were in financial disarray even before the pandemic, and has said that coronavirus should not be used as an excuse to bail out poorly managed states. He's accused Democrats of being singularly focused on getting aid to Democratic states running deficits.

"They want to be able to make up for many, many years — in some cases, decades — of bad management. We can’t do that," Trump said Saturday.

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Aug. 6, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Aug. 6, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

5. Liability protections for schools, health care providers and businesses

From the moment that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell returned to the Senate floor after a prolonged legislative break in May, he set his sites on the implementation of legal protections for schools, businesses and health care providers.

These liability protections, though unpopular with Democrats, were a red line for McConnell and many Senate Republicans who consistently warned of a "second pandemic of frivolous lawsuits" that schools, small businesses and health care providers could face as they attempted to re-open in the midst of the pandemic.

These liability protections were a pillar of the Republican proposal, but they were not included in Trump's executive orders over the weekend.

At the moment, these entities could still potentially be held liable for individuals contracting the virus while working, attending class or seeking treatment.

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