With Congress returning, Pa. progressives argue for bigger coronavirus relief package | Monday Morning Coffee

The U.S. Capitol at night (Image via Flickr Commons)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Congress is set to return to work this morning to begin hammering out the details of a new coronavirus aid package that will send new federal assistance to households, schools and businesses — not to mention extending unemployment benefits to millions of jobless Americans that expire at month’s end.

With that in mind, the policy wonks at the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center, a progressive think-tank in Harrisburg, have put together a pair of letters, one from state lawmakers, the other from advocacy groups, sketching out their wishlist on a final aid package.

It will not surprise you to learn that the letter from lawmakers calls for more assistance to state governments — a recurring theme since the beginning of the pandemic, as well as a “temporary increase in the share of federal matching funds for Medicaid, and other critical measures for the people, communities, and businesses of our state.”

As we noted earlier this month, state government finished the 2019-202 fiscal year $3.2 billion in the red, with June (not April, much to Mr. Eliot’s relief, we’re sure) proving the cruelest month for revenue collections. The state could see an uptick this month because of an extended tax filing deadline. But either way, things are pretty dire.

U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, attends a meeting of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee (Photo from Scanlon’s Facebook Page)

The letter from lawmakers, which was sent to members of the state’s U.S. House delegation, was signed by dozens of Democratic members of the state House and Senate.

In it, the lawmakers argue that Congress needs to “allocate more money to the Coronavirus Relief Fund that was established in the CARES Act, allow states to spend those funds beyond the end of calendar year 2020, and give states the flexibility to use that money to cover rising costs in a wide range of programs and make up for steep losses in tax revenues. The current constraints on the Coronavirus Relief Fund will severely limit its effectiveness and fail to help prevent deep state budget cuts.”

The letter also calls a temporary, 15 percent increase to maximum allotment allowed under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP program, as food stamps are now known. Such an increase “would help families keep food on the table and stimulate spending at local grocery stores,” the letter reads.

U.S. Sens. Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania (Capital-Star file)

The second letter, from advocacy groups, was sent to U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., makes some pretty specific programmatic asks,

They include:

  • Keeping key “unemployment assistance measures and fiscal relief for states and localities … in place automatically until unemployment returns to more normal levels,” as well as extending benefits for current recipients.
  • Expanding the federal Medicaid matching payment, or FMAP, so that it’s more robust than the one currently included in the House-approved HEROES Act. State lawmakers also want the expansion “ideally … tied to state unemployment rates, as the National Governors Association (NGA) has proposed.”
  • $500 billion in direct grants to the states, also per a recommendation from the NGA.
  • Emergency assistance grants to needy families, based on a proposal sponsored by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
  • A temporary expansion of the Child Tax Credit “so it’s fully available to poor and low-income children. (Some 27 million low-income children, including 891,000 Pennsylvania children, now receive only a partial credit or none at all.)”
  • Stimulus payments to immigrant households where an adult does not have a Social Security number and to dependents aged 16 years old and older.
  • Assistance, beyond that included in the existing HEROES Act, to childcare providers.

In all, the two letters are a pretty standard list of progressive wishlist items. With the GOP-controlled Senate evincing zero interest in the HEROES Act sent over by the House, the idea that the programs included in it will be expanded or that funding will be increased feels a whole lot like wishful thinking.

But the meter is running on those unemployment benefits, and there’s now a genuine chance that Democrats could flip the White House and Senate, while expanding their margin in the House, could end up a powerful motivator. If we know one thing about U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, it’s that his instinct for self-preservation is pretty much unparalleled.

So who can tell? This year is weird enough already.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Associate Editor Cassie Miller leads our coverage this morning. In this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket, she digs into a new Pew Research Center study reminding us that the country still has some distance to travel on closing the economic gap between American men and women.

From the weekend:
Stephen Caruso
 talked to experts about a new statewide database that’s supposed to help weed out bad cops — and whether it will do what it’s intended to do.

Your humble newsletter author runs down reaction from Pennsylvania politicos to the death of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

Free-lancer Davis Giangiulio makes his debut in these pages with an in-depth look at relations between U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and President Donald Trump, which took a decidedly stormy turn after Toomey mildly criticized Trump’s decision to commute the sentence of friend and adviser Roger Stone.

And Attorney General Josh Shapiro is suing Lincoln University’s trustees over the ouster of Lincoln University’s president, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Dick Polman takes up the bizarre schism between the Trump White House and Dr. Anthony Fauci. And for about … oh … the billionth time mail-in voting is safe and fraud is non-existent, a University of Michigan scholar writes.

Y en la Estrella-Capital, La propuesta judicial de redistribución de distritos autoriza al comité del Senado en votación de línea de partido, por Elizabeth Hardison. Y Shapiro se une a sus compañeros Fiscales Generales en una demanda en contra de la regla de Trump sobre los estudiantes extranjeros.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine talks to reporters during a news conference on 7/13/20 (Screen Capture)

Elsewhere.
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine is becoming ‘an accidental icon,’ through her work on the COVID-19 pandemic, PhillyMag reports.
PennDOT is spending $3 million more to upgrade a road at the base of a planned $70 million business park in western Pennsylvania, the Tribune-Review reports.
PennLive considers why there are so few Black-owned construction companies — and workers — in central Pennsylvania’s construction industry.
The Morning Call profiles the Black Lives Matter coalition that’s working to change the Lehigh Valley.
A Luzerne County judge, and the county sheriff, have tested positive for COVID-19, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

Protesters in Philadelphia are pressing the city to remove a street sign honoring former Mayor Wilson Goode, citing his role in the infamous MOVE bombing, WHYY-FM reports.
Penn State’s hybrid and in-person classes will mostly serve students in upper-level coursesWPSU-FM reports.
PoliticsPA has last week’s winners and losers in Pennsylvania politics.
Stateline.org explains how your local board of elections is fighting a disinformation campaign.
NY Mag’s Intelligencer explains why the Trump administration’s Pinochet-like tactics in Portland, Ore. will probably fail.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out this morning to two good pals: Kurt Knaus, of Ceisler Media & Advocacy, who celebrated on Saturday, and to Rossilynne Skena Culgan, of The Incline, who celebrated on Sunday. Best wishes go out this morning to reader and friend Paul Nagle, who teaches art in the Cumberland Valley schools, and to former PennLive scribe Pat Carroll, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations all around, friends.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from Coldplay to get the working week going. From 2005’s ‘X&Y,’ it’s Talk.’

Monday’s Baseball Soccer Link.
Baltimore 
got by Philadelphia 3-2 in pre-season play on Sunday night. Weird to write the words ‘pre-season’ in July. Usually, Baltimore are mathematically eliminated by now. Here’s hoping for a better season for the Birds.

And now you’re up to date.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press