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COVID-19 Response: Heroes Act Summary


On October 1st, House Democrats passed an updated version of the HEROES Act, marking the second comprehensive pandemic response legislation the House has passed, while the Senate GOP and the White House continue to ignore the suffering across the country. Mitch McConnell’s Senate has not passed a COVID relief bill in over 6 months, as millions of workers lost their jobs, schools struggled to open safely, and the death toll rose above 200,000. We desperately need a national plan to address the pandemic - including equitable access to free testing, culturally-competent contact tracing, and guaranteed health care for all. Trump and his enablers must stop treating COVID like a campaign opponent and take it as a serious threat that calls for a serious response. That’s why we need you to call your Senators and demand that they pass the HEROES Act immediately without watering it down. Working families are struggling to make ends meet, and more people are exposed to the virus with every day we waste. We need every protection in the HEROES Act to pass or lives will be at stake.

The coronavirus crisis has seen tens of thousands of people lose their lives and millions of people lose their jobs. This is a massive crisis that requires a massive response from the federal government, but so far, poor and working families have been left behind. That’s why we created the People’s Agenda Pledge, calling on members of Congress to vote NO on any coronavirus legislation unless it is a true People’s Agenda for relief.  

On October 1st, Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats passed an updated version of their coronavirus relief package — the HEROES Act. The bill improves significantly on the CARES Act, especially on democracy issues and protections for immigrants. We support this bill, but admit it still contains major room for improvement, particularly in protecting workers and our public health.

There’s a lot of work to be done to ensure the bill remains intact through negotiations and passed into law, especially now that Trump’s EOs pit essential workers against workers experiencing unemployment. Below, we break down the bill along with our four People’s Agenda asks and provide recommendations on how to demand real relief through a People’s Agenda.

The People’s Agenda Pledge

The Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic hasn’t done nearly enough to help poor and working people. Now Trump wants to deceive the public by making hollow promises he knows will never be kept, in order to score political points. We called on members of Congress to make a public commitment to vote NO on the next coronavirus response legislation unless it is a true People’s Agenda for relief. That means any future relief package must: 

  • Keep People on Payrolls

  • Provide Financial Relief

  • Protect Public Health

  • Defend Elections

In addition, Democrats must ensure the next package provides relief to every person in this country, regardless of tax or immigration status, age or disability.

Call your Senators and demand they pass the HEROES Act!

McConnell has been blocking a Senate vote on the House-passed HEROES Act for months, which contains critical economic relief for families. Call your Senators and demand they pass the HEROES Act immediately as it was introduced and oppose any amendments to water the bill down.

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Issue Area Breakdowns

We had four demands for the People’s Agenda Pledge. Here’s how the Heroes Act 2.0 stacked up on each of them:

Keep People on Payrolls

Stop mass layoffs, and preserve employment relationships for all businesses, including small businesses. Ensure federal dollars go to workers and small businesses, not enriching CEOs and Wall Street.

The Good

This bill does extend the expanded unemployment insurance provisions from the CARES Act into early 2021, which is critically important as tens of millions of people find themselves out of work unexpectedly. It also includes several of the provisions demanded within the Essential Worker Bill of Rights, including whistleblower protections and expanded access to paid leave.

The Bad

However, the HEROES Act 2.0 does not do enough to ensure that workers remain on payroll so that we can expedite the economic recovery as soon as it is safe. Instead of a Paycheck Guarantee like the one proposed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the bill only includes employee retention tax credits that are much smaller and more limited in scope. The bill would not provide hazard pay to the essential workers, who are disproportionately black and brown workers and have faced the highest risks in the workplace. It also doesn’t do anything to prevent mega-corporations from merging to gobble up ever-increasing portions of our economy, or improve on the fairly lax oversight standards for the corporate bailout money from the CARES Act. 


Winning expanded unemployment insurance was the biggest victory in the CARES Act, and preserving that is a critically important part of making sure people have the financial resources they need to survive during this outbreak. However, like previous legislation, the Heroes Act 2.0 falls short in ensuring that people maintain a connection with their employer during this crisis without exposing themselves to potential health risks by returning to work too soon, and in putting safeguards on the money that businesses are receiving from the government to make sure they can’t use it for things like lobbying or executive bonuses.

Provide Financial Relief

Expand aid for the most vulnerable in the COVID-19 epidemic, including direct cash assistance, increased food aid, debt relief, and eviction protections.

The Good

The Heroes Act 2.0 improves upon the CARES Act to provide financial relief for vulnerable families. The bill includes:

  • An additional $1,200 payment to all adults and $500 for every dependent. The bill also amends the CARES Act to provide payments for dependents over the age of 16 and taxpayers with a taxpayer identification number (rather than requiring a social security number), including many immigrants and their families who were excluded in the last bill. 

  • A moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for all properties, protections to prevent utility and internet shutoffs, and a $50 billion rental assistance fund.

  • $10,000 in student debt cancellation for economically-distressed borrowers of both publicly and privately-held loans and suspension of the collection on all consumer debt.

  • An increase of SNAP benefit levels by 15%.

The bill also improves protections for small businesses by placing a moratorium on small business debt collection, increasing eligible tax credits, and providing additional grants and loans to nonprofits and small businesses. 

The Bad

The Heroes Act 2.0 does not provide for universal monthly direct cash assistance — a policy we think is necessary to protect vulnerable families and weather this historic recession. The stories of millions of Americans expressing frustration over the difficulty of procuring unemployment insurance and small business loans further compounds the case for universal, monthly payments until this crisis is over. Additionally, the $10,000 student loan forgiveness plan will cancel only a fraction of the debt held by many former students, particularly people of color, and the additional $10 billion in small business grants will again need to be increased as this economic climate persists. 


Overall, this bill will provide needed relief for families facing financial stress and uncertainty. It’s important that relief comes from all sides, including housing protections, stimulus payments, debt forgiveness, and nutrition assistance — this bill does that. However, as this crisis continues, we will need a sustained form of relief for individuals and small businesses that is easy to access and immediate, an issue Congress must address in the future. Congress must not water down this bill or vulnerable families will continue to suffer.

Protect Public Health

Full health coverage for all: COVID-19 care and protections for all frontline workers including a mandatory OSHA standard.

The Good

The Heroes Act 2.0 fills in many of the gaps of previous pieces of coronavirus response legislation. The bill includes:

  • A requirement that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issue a new emergency temporary standard to protect people from exposure to COVID-19 at their workplace.

  • A new federal Medical Supplies Response Coordinator position to streamline the acquisition and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), and a requirement that the Trump administration use the Defense Production Act for increased production of PPE and other medical supplies that are currently in short supply.

  • Expanded paid sick/family/medical leave that fills in the gaps from previous legislation by including all workers and expanding peoples’ ability to use their leave.

  • Additional federal funding for state Medicaid programs to help protect people’s coverage, and a Special Enrollment Period for Medicare and the Affordable Care Act exchanges to give people a chance to sign up for coverage.

  • Funding for employers to keep furloughed workers on their health care coverage through next January.

  • Granting the maximum federal subsidy for coverage through the ACA marketplace for unemployed workers.

The Bad

However, gaps still remain in the health care coverage and prescription drug affordability provisions of the Heroes Act 2.0. 

  • It also doesn’t rein in Big Pharma’s ability to profiteer off of any medicines developed using our public money, like the drug remdesivir which received at least $70 million in public investment during the course of its development but is monopolized by Big Pharma giant Gilead. 

  • Finally, the bill helps to maintain coverage through the maximum ACA subsidy for unemployed workers for people who are not eligible for Medicaid or continued employer-sponsored insurance , but it does very little to help people who were already uninsured or people who had inadequate coverage with prohibitively high out-of-pocket costs. ACA marketplace coverage and subsidies also exclude undocumented immigrants from eligibility.  


Protecting workers with an OSHA standard, expanding the paid sick days and family leave provisions from previous legislation, and ensuring that state Medicaid programs would be adequately funded were three key provisions that had to be included in this package, and in those respects it delivers. The Heroes Act 2.0 also aims to stabilize people’s health care coverage situation by keeping more people on their employer coverage, and allowing them to sign up for new coverage through the Affordable Care Act (or Medicare, if they qualified already) outside of the normal open enrollment period. However, this bill still misses key opportunities to fill in gaps: it doesn’t require that hospitals spend any of the extra money they’ve been given on PPE, and it doesn’t do enough to take on the corporate interests that dominate the health care sector such as Big Pharma or big insurance companies. Congress should not water down any of the existing health-related proposals any further before passing the Heroes Act 2.0.

Defend Elections

Enact a vote-by-mail requirement for 2020 federal elections while maintaining access to in-person voting for those who do not have access to mail voting.

The Good

Democracy is a top priority in the Heroes Act 2.0. The bill includes significant improvements over the CARES Act that will ensure safe, secure elections this November. The Heroes Act 2.0 includes:

  • An additional $3.6 billion in election funding to expand vote by mail and maintain safe in-person voting locations (for a total of $4 billion)

  • Allows any eligible voter in any state to request a mail-in ballot for any reason, and allows them to request them online

  • Bans states from throwing out ballots without giving the voter the opportunity to fix discrepancies

  • Requires mail-in ballots to include pre-paid postage

  • Same-day and online voter registration

  • Extended early voting days

  • Safety measures for in-person voting, including protective gear for poll workers

  • $10 billion in funding for the United States Postal Service

The Bad

We are encouraged by the democracy provisions included in this bill, which meet our immediate demands in advance of the November election. But we’ll still need to pass a sweeping structural democracy reform package first thing in 2021 to truly and permanently safeguard our elections and our democracy.


This bill provides the necessary funding and policies to ensure the November election can go forward safely and securely. Expanded vote by mail and safe in-person voting options are integral to preventing the spread of coronavirus and keeping everyone safe while also guaranteeing that no voter is disenfranchised. Congress must pass all these measures or risk forcing Americans to choose between their health and their vote. 

Universal Relief

Democrats must ensure the next package provides relief to every person in this country, regardless of tax or immigration status, age or disability.

The Good

The Heroes Act 2.0 includes significant protections for immigrants and immigrant communities across a variety of issues. The bill includes:

  • Free testing and treatment for all, regardless of immigration status, income, or health care coverage status.

  • Stimulus checks for everyone who has a Social Security Number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which expands access to many undocumented immigrant taxpayers.

  • Automatic extensions of all work permits and immigration benefits so that people don’t lose status while appointments are on hold, and protection from deportation (through deferred action) for many essential workers.

  • No additional money for ICE or CBP, and transfer restrictions to prevent money intended for other things from being  repurposed for detention or deportations.

  • A requirement that ICE review for release from detention any immigrant whose detention is not required by law

  • Funding for safety net  health care providers, including those who serve immigrant, rural, and low-income communities.

The Bad

There are a few gaps in the Heroes Act 2.0:

  • It does not block the State Department and Department of Homeland Security from implementing the administration’s public charge regulations, which would penalize people for using the public benefits available to them or their families.

  • It does not halt all civil immigration enforcement during the pandemic, such as deportations, transfers of people from criminal custody to ICE custody, and collateral arrests.

  • And finally, it does not halt construction of the border wall, which puts border communities, workers and the general public at heightened risk and wastes diverted federal resources. 


The Heroes Act 2.0 includes immigrant families and communities in many important provisions, such as access to free testing and treatment, money to help survive the outbreak, and automatic extensions to people’s immigration status. It should have gone further in unwinding Trump’s detention and deportation machine and stopping construction on his hateful and wasteful wall, but overall it makes great strides compared to the CARES Act.

What can you do now to make sure Congress passes the Heroes Act 2.0

Both versions of the HEROES Act passed the House and are now onto the Senate, but Mitch McConnell has been blocking a vote on any meaningful response bill for months.  Now we need to pressure Senators to pass the HEROES Act immediately opposing any amendments that water the bill down. Since the original HEROES Act passed the House, Trump and Senate Republicans have done everything they can to put corporations over people and harm vulnerable families. They introduced the HEALS Act, a completely inadequate bill that centered protecting corporations from liability lawsuits, and allowed the unemployment insurance income and eviction moratorium from the CARES Act to expire. Then, to make matters worse, Trump introduced a set of Executive Orders that were not only executive overreach, but raided Social Security and Medicare funding and cut unemployment insurance. Senate Republicans have attempted to “complement” these Executive Orders with a “skinny” relief package, but unsurprisingly, the package continues to prioritize corporate immunity and slashes unemployment insurance and other vital programs that families across the country are depending on to get through this crisis. With the help of pressure from activists like you, Senate Democrats successfully voted down  the package on September 10th.

In light of Trump’s disastrous Executive Orders and Senate Republicans inadequate “skinny” relief package, we need Democrats to hold firm and pass a bold relief package that meets the needs of vulnerable people across the country. 

Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans are ignoring the urgent needs of their constituents and putting corporate interests over people. Call your Senators now and demand they pass the HEROES Act immediately opposing any amendments to water the bill down.