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Senate debating COVID-19 relief bill without Hyde language that would prevent funding of abortion

WASHINGTON — Democratic members of the U.S. Senate were hopeful their version of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package would be passed the second week of March, so they could send it to President Joe Biden for his signature before unemployment assistance expires March 14.

The measure includes $246 billion for extending unemployment benefits through August and increasing the federal supplemental payment from $300 per week to $400. The House, which approved its pandemic relief measure Feb. 27 and included this provision, will likely have to vote again on its bill to reconcile any changes in the Senate version. The bill did not include language that would prevent money from the bill funding abortion.

Republicans said they would oppose the legislation because it includes billions for programs and projects that do not immediately address pandemic needs. In the House, 212 members — all of the Republicans, plus two Democrats — voted against the bill. It passed with 219 votes.

The National Council of Nonprofits, whose members include Catholic Charities USA, said the House’s American Rescue Plan “would provide much-needed relief to many nonprofits on the front lines of helping people in communities across this country as we continue to deal with the challenges created by the pandemic and economic downturn.”

Catholic Charities USA, a network of 165 local Catholic Charities agencies nationwide, said that as Congress and the Biden administration finalized priorities for the next COVID-19 aid package, “we ask that more funding be provided to ensure people remain housed, fed and healthy.”

Its own list of legislative priorities for a relief bill included ensuring “adequate resources to promote family and worker stability”; supporting the health care safety net; capping the interest rate that can be charged for short-term loans; bolstering support for immigrants and refugees; and increasing funding to prevent homelessness.

CCUSA also had called on lawmakers to maintain the “long-standing, bipartisan supported Hyde Amendment” as part of the bill.

The amendment, reenacted every year for 45 years, outlaws federal tax dollars from directly funding abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman would be endangered.

The McMorris Rodgers-Foxx-Walorski Amendment — co-sponsored by 206 members — would have added Hyde language to the American Rescue Plan. The Hyde language also was rejected as what became the final bill worked its way through various House committees, said Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and other national pro-life leaders.

Allocations in the American Rescue Plan include $17 billion for vaccine-related activities and programs and $110 billion for other efforts to contain the pandemic; $130 billion for public schools; and $143 billion to expand child tax credit, child care tax credit and earned income tax credit mostly for one year.

Other provisions include $45 billion to temporarily expand Affordable Care Act subsidies for two years and subsidize 2020 and 2021 coverage; $50 million for family planning; $25 billion for grants to restaurants and bars; $7 billion to allow more loans under the Paycheck Protection Program; $6 billion to increase nutrition assistance; and $350 billion for states and localities.

The bill also provides for checks of $1,400 to go to individuals who earn up to $75,000 a year, heads of households earning $112,500 or married couples earning $150,000. Eligible dependents, including adult dependents, also would each get $1,400.

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