Democracy Safeguards Included in Second COVID-19 Stimulus Package – HEROES Act

Statement of Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause 

The HEROES Act takes critical steps to help secure essential pillars of our democracy undermined by the COVID-19 pandemic while providing a huge boost to address the public health and economic crises. The bill provides important bulwarks to help safeguard our elections, the Census, the U.S. Postal Service, and includes enhanced oversight requirements for the stimulus package that were sorely lacking in CARES Act passed by Congress in late March.

Unfortunately, the legislation does not provide adequate relief for local news outlets that provide vital information to communities but have seen their revenue streams dry up during the pandemic – a time when local news coverage is essential. Ultimately the stimulus package must provide targeted support for local news rather than simply provide relief for broadcast and newspaper conglomerates. However, we commend Speaker Pelosi and the House of Representatives for passing the comprehensive HEROES Act that addresses many key democracy priorities for which we have been advocating.

The HEROES Act contains increased investments for state and local elections while removing the state match requirement at a time when budgets are facing massive shortfalls. The bill provides critical funding for the Postal Service and additional investments in the Census so everyone can be counted.

It makes significant investments in broadband to ensure robust and affordable connectivity for low-income households and Americans who have recently lost jobs or been furloughed due to the pandemic. Broadband access is essential now more than ever and no American should go without connectivity. The legislation also clarifies the FCC’s authority to regulate prison phone rates within a state while directing the agency to adopt rules to make prison phone rates just and reasonable. Exorbitant prison phone rates have long been cruel but are completely unacceptable during a health crisis as families must to stay connected with loved ones who are incarcerated.

Coupled with additional oversight requirements for the programs in the stimulus package, we feel this bill represents a strong and necessary response to the perils we face as a nation that threaten our economy, our public health, and our democracy.

Although Senate Majority Leader McConnell has stated that he is in no hurry to consider another emergency COVID-19 stimulus package, we hope he will come around at a time when more than 80,000 Americans have died and hundreds of thousands more have been infected with coronavirus wreaking havoc on our economy, our health care system, and our democracy. We hope that the House-Senate negotiations will lead to legislation that will include robust funding to support local journalism targeted at preserving newsrooms and reporting jobs at local outlets. Amidst a pandemic, committed local journalists can quite literally save lives by passing critical information to the public.

We will continue to urge our 1.2 million members to contact their U.S. Senators to demand that they quickly pass another stimulus package that addresses the crises faced by our health care system, our economy, and our democracy.