Ernst outlines goals for phase four coronavirus relief

Source: By Caleb McCullough, The Daily Iowan • Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said she wants to provide assistance to essential workers and agriculture in an upcoming congressional coronavirus relief package.


Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said she wants to focus on essential workers and agriculture in planning for an upcoming phase four coronavirus relief bill.

Congressional leaders are in talks on the details of further federal assistance for people impacted by the pandemic, following the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress in March.

In a press call with reporters on Tuesday, Ernst detailed her goals for where federal funding should go in that bill and introduced her own bill to provide tax relief for essential workers.

Ernst’s bill, called the FRNT LINE Act, would suspend federal income taxes for essential workers up to an income capped at the highest level of pay for an enlisted person in the U.S. military. It also suspends federal payroll taxes for essential workers who earn up to $50,000 a year.

Workers covered under the bill include health-care workers, agriculture workers, truck drivers, factory workers, teachers, and restaurant and grocery store employees.

“Our nation can’t weather this COVID-19 pandemic without our essential workforce,” Ernst said in the press call. “We’re upholding our most critical infrastructure and industries, ensuring Americans are fed and providing care for our loved ones.”

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As for the larger congressional relief package, Ernst said she wants to focus on providing resources for essential workers rather than continuing the current $600 federal unemployment benefits across the board.

She said some employers are struggling to rehire workers who are receiving the extra $600 a week, which is set to expire in most states on July 25. She also acknowledged there are people who can’t return to work and are relying on the federal assistance.

“If I can reward the folks that continue to work, I’m pushing for that, and then we’ll sort out how we best support the families that need additional support,” she said.

She also said a second round of direct payments is likely, something that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, R-Ky. echoed on Tuesday.

Direct payments were sent out to Americans who made up to $99,000 in March. According to The Hill, McConnell has been suggesting dropping that cap to $40,000 a year.

Ernst broke rank with President Trump in the call, saying she disagreed with the administration’s proposal to withhold funding for coronavirus testing in the upcoming relief package, as The New York Times and other outlets have reported.

“It’s really important to remember that Congress, we’re the ones that hold the purse strings,” she said. “I still think it’s important to support the testing.”

She also disagreed with Trump’s suggestion to cut funding for schools that don’t reopen in the fall, saying nobody in Congress has brought it up as an option.

Ernst said there would be a portion in the upcoming relief package dedicated to agriculture, and she said she hopes some of those dollars will go to support ethanol producers in Iowa.

“Encompassing it in agriculture as a whole, I think will be very important,” she said. “And then making sure that we’re able to pull some of the support for agriculture to support our ethanol would be a wise move.”