House Passage of Heroes Act Brings Test of Senate’s Stimulus Appetite

The close passage of the Heroes Act in the House of Representatives, with 208 yeas and 199 nays, underscores the difficult path ahead for the fourth coronavirus relief package.

Following its recent passage of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or the “Heroes Act,” the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives must now rely on the Republican controlled Senate to take up the ambitious fourth relief package.

The wide-ranging legislation addresses a host of issues, from providing supplemental funding to the SNAP food security program to creating a special fund to support struggling fisheries. Notably, the entire Division D section of the legislation is dedicated to retirement security policies.

First and foremost in Division D is the creation of “special partition relief” for struggling multiemployer union pensions. This proposal is detailed in a section of the Heroes Act referred to as the Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act or “EPPRA.”

But the bill includes many other provisions, including fiscal year 2020 emergency supplemental appropriations to federal agencies; sizable payments and other assistance to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments; and additional direct payments of up to $1,200 per individual.

Beyond these provisions, the Heroes Act seeks to expand paid sick days, family and medical leave, unemployment compensation, nutrition and food assistance programs, housing assistance, and payments to farmers. Other elements of the law that have proven to be popular among the Democratic base are the extension and expansion of the moratorium on certain evictions and foreclosures, and the fact that the bill requires employers to develop and implement infectious disease exposure control plans.

Republicans in the Senate, led by majority leader Mitch McConnell, say they support some of these provisions, but they have balked at the $3 trillion price tag tied to the Heroes Act, suggesting the amount of borrowing required to fund these programs and benefits would bring serious harm to future generations. Their concerns have meant the Heroes Act now sits in legislative limbo—and indeed leader McConnell has indicated he and many of his members feel it is more appropriate to wait and first judge the impact of previous stimulus packages, before any addition Congressional actions are taken. It is also important to note that the law would be subject to a potential presidential veto.

Among the early retirement industry commenters on the Heroes Act passage is the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI).

“We thank Congress for its leadership in continuing to pursue measures to help strengthen retirement security for millions of Americans as our nation recovers from the pandemic,” says Paul Richman, IRI chief government and political affairs officer. “IRI welcomes the opportunity to work with members of Congress to advance these retirement security proposals.”

Richman specifically cites measures will grant a waiver to individuals who took a required minimum distribution (RMD) from their retirement accounts in 2019 and 2020 and permit the amounts of those distributions to be rolled back into a retirement plan or IRA without any penalties, if done by November 30, 2020. 

In an email communication sent to all members of the U.S. House of Representatives, IRI said that the enactment of these measures will help retirement savers save more today by keeping their tax-deferred retirement savings longer, Richman explains.

“It will give those who were required to take the distributions an opportunity to try to recoup some of the losses incurred because of the volatility of the stock market during the COVID-19 crisis,” he notes. “It is especially important for those retirement savers who are living longer and are close to retirement who, if not given this relief, may need to work even longer to recoup the losses incurred due to no fault of their own.”