02.03.2021 0

Sen. Rubio amendment would block schools from stimulus funding if they refuse to reopen by April 30


By Robert Romano

In January, President Joe Biden unveiled his proposed $1.9 trillion Covid relief legislation which would issue yet more checks to American households, this time totaling $1,400 per individual and an additional child tax credit for $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 for children over 6.

It would also give $350 billion to states and localities to balance their budgets after record drops in revenue, and $170 billion to schools and universities to supposedly reopen.

The December legislation signed by former President Donald Trump had already put $82 billion towards schools for reopening.

In the meantime, it offers a paltry $15 billion to small businesses that the states are forcing to remain shut down. To be fair, in the December legislation the Paycheck Protection Program was extended by $280 billion. To date it has covered more than 6 million loans at $595 billion combined between the CARES Act and the phase four bill that passed in December, saving as many as 50 million jobs.

The Biden plan would raise the unemployment add-on extension up to $400 a week — this is the additional amount that has been attached to regular unemployment benefits — raising it from the current $300 a week, but still lower than the $600 a week from the CARES Act passed in early 2020.

And, on the virus, it would include another $20 billion for vaccination distribution and $50 billion in testing, coming atop the $20 billion for vaccine purchases, $8 billion for vaccine distribution and another $20 billion for more Covid testing from the December bill.

As it is, Senate Democrats plan on passing the bill using budget reconciliation — averting a Senate filibuster that would normally take 60 votes to overcome — making it a straight up partisan affair. The Senate voted 50-49 to proceed with reconciliation as the vehicle for the legislation.

Meaning, even with just 50 votes in the Senate, if they vote in lockstep, that’s enough for Democrats to pass the bill even if not a single Republican votes for it. They cannot stop it. It is therefore questionable if Republicans will be able to get any provisions into the bill.

But one they should definitely fight for is an amendment by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would force schools to reopen by April 30 as a condition for receiving funds. The amendment is based on the Put Students First Act.

“If a school continues to cave to the unions at the expense of their students, they should not receive funding. I propose that if a school refuses to offer students an in-person option by April 30, 2021, 100 days into the Biden administration, that funding should be rescinded and directed to school choice and the reopening plans of schools that are prioritizing their students’ needs,” Rubio wrote in a Fox News oped Feb. 2 unveiling the legislation.

Which makes all the sense in the world. After all, does it really cost $1.9 trillion to reopen the Covid economy? No, you just need to get the schools reopen.

More than any other provision offered by the Biden plan, Rubio’s plan could be the key to reopening the economy from the Covid lockdowns. 56.4 million children go to K-12 schools, including 50.7 million who go to public schools.

As millions of children remain home from school, many including special needs children are regressing badly, attending classes from their beds and are generally not being prepared for the rigors of college and being in the workplace. By March, many students will have gone almost a full year without in-person learning.

Under the Biden plan, it is unclear when schools will ever reopen, with the administration proposing to retrofit 130,000 schools across the country with new ventilation. A new 200-page report on Covid response from the Biden administration states, “In the coming weeks, FEMA, in consultation with ED and CDC, will work with states and local governments to utilize disaster relief funds to address barriers to school reopening, including purchase of masks and sanitizing products, as well as necessary emergency changes to school ventilation.”

The importance of reopening schools cannot be overstated. Millions of working parents are being forced to cut back hours or quit their jobs to take care of their kids who would normally be in school.

As a result, females have been disproportionately displaced from the labor force. In fact, females have the lowest labor participation now than at any time since 1987.

Overall, 25 million jobs were lost when labor markets bottomed last April. So far, just 16 million of those have been recovered. How long will it take to recover the 9 million other jobs lost to Covid if schools remain closed after April? If the Rubio amendment is not adopted by the Senate, President Biden and the rest of the country will find out.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.



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