US coronavirus relief bill would discriminate against private schools

CNA Staff, May 18, 2020 / 11:21 am (CNA).- Bishop David O'Connell of Trenton lamented Thursday that the US Congress' latest coronavirus relief bill would bar private schools' access to financial relief.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference is encouraging Catholics to ask their Senators and Representatives to include aid for private school families in the stimulus.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (Heroes) Act, H.R. 6800, passed the House May 15, but it is not expected to pass the Senate.

The bill would provide funding for state and local governments, assistance to hospitals,  direct payments to American families along with funding unemployment insurance. Moreover, it would extend unemployment benefits, expand the payroll protection program, and increase funding for food stamps. It would also set up a strategic plan for testing for the virus. The bill fails to put Hyde protections in critical spots, thereby allowing for taxpayer funding of abortions.

Bishop O'Connell wrote May 14 that the Heroes Act “would prohibit nonpublic schools including our Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton from accessing any portion of the proposed $200 billion including in the legislation for education.”

“Our Catholic schools struggle to stay open as it is, and the pandemic will impact them negatively,” he added.

The bishop directed the people of his local Church to a message prepared by the state Catholic conference to be sent to senators and representatives which notes that “the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 virus have reached nearly every sector of American society. The Catholic schools in the United States have been severely impacted as well, and their centuries-long tradition of serving families from all walks of life is now imperiled.”

The message asks the legislators to consider including equitable service provision for the private school community, “consistent with previous emergency disaster legislation”; direct aid to private school families in the form of scholarships, and tax credits for scholarship granting organizations; and tax credits or deductions for private school tuition and expenses.

The Heroes Act passed by House by a 208-199 vote. It was supported by one Republican, and 14 Democrats voted against the bill.

The White House has already said it will veto the Heroes Act, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declared it dead on arrival in the chamber, saying that “I don’t think we have felt yet the urgency of acting immediately.”

Senators have already said that a bill would not pass the chamber before Memorial Day, according to The Hill.

In the Cares Act, the first stimulus bill that passed Congress in March, Planned Parenthood was left out of emergency small business loans because of a 500-employee limit for non-profits to be eligible for Paycheck Protection Program loans. The current bill amends the regulations to allow for Planned Parenthood to access PPP loans.

Hyde protections are not included in the legislation’s funding of state and local governments, and are not attached to subsidies for COBRA premiums or other coverage for furloughed workers that could include abortion coverage.

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