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COVID relief deal unlikely as House and Senate are too far apart

The old adage “Don’t confuse motion with progress” is sadly applicable to recent efforts to pass new COVID relief legislation. Yes, the House passed last month a new version of the HEROES Act that contains an additional $175 billion in COVID relief funding for K-12 schools, with professional learning a permitted expenditure, and $12 billion specifically for remote education costs. And yes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have met on and off for months trying to close the gap between what the White House is willing to spend and the House’s legislation. And still yes, the President wants a deal, tweeting at Congress: “Go big or go home.” But for all of that movement, there is no deal because the White House and House Democrats remain hundreds of billions of dollars apart. Additionally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) insists that he cannot move a COVID relief deal as large as the White House and the House are discussing because his Republican caucus will not support anything at that level. He is now considering introducing a COVID relief bill that contains no funding for education. So, here we are in mid-October, all schools are open in some manner nationwide, the pandemic continues, and Congress and the Administration have not been able to agree on additional COVID relief for schools since the CARES Act passed on March 27. We have seen motion on that front but not actual progress.

While a COVID relief deal is not impossible before the election, it appears increasingly unlikely. Following the election, the odds of a deal during a lame-duck session of Congress are uncertain. Congress must come into session after the election in order to either pass final FY21 funding bills or approve another temporary budget (called a CR) to prevent a federal government shutdown. Thus, they will be present to pass another COVID relief bill if all sides can agree to a deal. The more likely scenario, though, is that it will be up to the new Congress and perhaps a new Administration to move a COVID relief package next year.

Learning Forward was thrilled that the new version of HEROES increased K-12 support to the level that we and our allies supported while omitting troubling conditions on school reopening or on diverting 10% of all funds to private schools. We will continue to push for its enactment whether that occurs this year or next. And we will continue to keep the pressure on for Congress to fulfill its annual funding responsibilities by passing FY21 education funding legislation that preserves and perhaps increases funding for Title II-A. Learning Forward believes in movement and progress.

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