As Congress continues to try and hash out an agreement on another COVID-19 relief bill, candidates in the race for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District differ on what should be in the legislation.
Lawmakers in both the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate and President Donald Trump have so far not reached an agreement on an aid package that could extend unemployment benefits, continue eviction protections and provide other assistance to businesses and local governments.
Because of Congress’ inability to arrive at a deal, enhanced $600 a week unemployment benefits expired Friday. The benefits — which are more than federal unemployment recipients typically receive — were authorized in legislation passed by Congress and signed into law in the spring.
U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-NM, said a package that can garner the support of Democrats, Republicans and Trump is crucial.
“Congress needs to come to a compromise as quickly as possible, and I remain ready to work with both sides of the aisle to get it done,” she said.
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Torres Small introduced legislation to extend unemployment benefits through Jan. 30, which according to a July 23 press release would protect an estimated 30 million people from losing those benefits.
That legislation would also provide a one-time payment of $3,600 to workers who are able to return to work to help offset the higher cost of working during the pandemic.
She added Tuesday in a statement that providing local, state and tribal governments with funds is needed so they can provide basic services as they cope with steep budget shortfalls due to the effects of the pandemic.
Yvette Herrell, Torres Small’s Republican opponent, during a Republican primary debate in May voiced opposition to another stimulus bill, citing concerns over the ballooning federal deficit.
In that same debate, she rejected the idea of federal aid to state and local governments, saying it would punish fiscally responsible states while directing what she called “handouts” to those who were not responsible.
On Tuesday, Michael Horanburg, Herrell’s campaign manager, said Herrell does support some relief measures for individuals and businesses.
“Yvette knows our families and small businesses have suffered greatly due to the coronavirus pandemic. Due to the duration of this ongoing crisis, Yvette favors targeted support for businesses and workers hit the hardest by the economic shutdown while avoiding unnecessary bailouts,” Horanburg said.
Horanburg though did not say whether Herrell supports extension of the $600-a-week unemployment benefits.
Herrell, he said, believes the best path for economic recovery in New Mexico is for the governor to allow businesses, including dine-in restaurants, to reopen.
Last month, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, issued a public health order barring indoor restaurant dining due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“We have a duty to protect not only our people’s physical health, but their economic health as well, and unfortunately our governor has fallen short of that responsibility,” Horanburg said.
Steve Jones, an Independent mounting a bid for New Mexico 2nd Congressional District, also agreed a long-term solution is needed to address the slumping economy.
“We must reduce some of the fear due to not knowing our future,” Jones said Tuesday.
He added that he backs helping all unemployed workers — regardless of legal status — who can show they were employed and paying taxes before the pandemic.
The federal unemployment amount, he said, should match 80% of prior weekly compensation, including reported tips.
Jones also expressed support for some federal aid to states, which would equal 25% of state tax revenue lost year over year as verified monthly.
Payments, he said, should be reviewed every three months by Congress.
One sticking point among members of Congress is a liability shield that would protect businesses from litigation related to COVID-19.
Torres Small said special interests on both sides of the partisan divide are the major obstacle to providing businesses who operate and open responsibly with protection from civil litigation.
Congress, she said, should expand upon Good Samaritan language in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which grants federal liability protections to volunteer health care workers.
“I support smart, bipartisan approaches to this issue and Congress should look at how it can expand upon this language in the upcoming package,” Torres Small said.
Horanburg did not say directly whether Herrell supported a liability shield, a central demand of many Republicans.
Jones said regardless of how he feels about liability protections, he characterized them as “an unnecessary political hurdle” for a final bill and they would likely face stiff opposition from trial lawyers.
“GOP needs to get over it,” he said.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or email@example.com.