Latest COVID-19 Legislation: What You Need to Know

May 18th, 2020 - 5:16 pm

The $3 Trillion HEROES Act
Which Parts Matter to Fuel Dealers and Why?

The controversial HEROES Act (H.R.6800) passed the House late Friday by a vote of 208-199. The 1,815-page bill is estimated to cost around $3 trillion, making it the most expensive piece of legislation ever approved by a chamber of Congress. Democrats argue it provides needed relief from the coronavirus pandemic and the related economic crisis. Republicans oppose the bill for its size and the inclusion of many provisions they say are unrelated to the current crisis. Mitch McConnell has called it "dead-on-arrival" in the Senate, but that does not mean every single proposal contained in the bill will never become law.

For Democrats, the HEROES Act serves three main purposes. First, it provides a messaging opportunity for party members on the campaign trail who continue to argue that Republicans are doing too little to address the ongoing pandemic. Second, it attempts to placate the far-left wing of the party, which feels its priorities have been left out of previous coronavirus legislation. Third, the bill will serve as an "opening bid" for Pelosi and other Democrats as they begin another round of negotiations over compromise legislation with Senate Republicans and the White House.

Despite its partisan motives, the bill includes some bipartisan proposals that could be on the table for inclusion in a future coronavirus bill. For example, it proposes several improvements to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the federal program designed to encourage businesses to sustain employment in exchange for forgivable loans. This includes a measure by Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) that reverses a recent IRS decision prohibiting expenses covered by forgiven PPP loans from being tax deductible. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) voiced support for Neal's proposal.

The HEROES Act also proposes an additional $1.5 billion for LIHEAP, building upon $900 million in emergency fuel assistance provided under the CARES Act. Northeast members of Congress fought for the added LIHEAP funds to be included and have informed NEFI that they will continue to push for emergency funding in future coronavirus legislation. Another measure (Section 60305(a)) would provide recovery payments for producers of biodiesel and other biofuels. It instructs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to pay out 45 cents per gallon for biofuel produced between January 1 and May 1, 2020. The bill pays 50% of that amount for every gallon not produced during the same time in 2019 to any producer that is shut down for one or more calendar months in the covered period.

NEFI is particularly concerned with Section 190701, which could force heating oil and propane dealers to deliver fuel even if customers cannot pay. The provision requires states to enact policies to "ensure that no home energy service or public water system service to a residential customer, which is provided or regulated by such entity, is or remains disconnected or interrupted during the emergency period ... because of non-payment." We are evaluating the viability of this provision and considering next steps. Rest assured, NEFI will do everything it can to ensure Main Street heating fuel dealers are not disadvantaged by future COVID-19 legislation cleared by Congress.

Click here for complete bill text of the HEROES Act. An official section-by-section summary is available here.