An earlier relief package, known as the Cares Act, took the rare step of treating the District like a U.S. territory instead of a state, as is usually the case with federal funding.
The District received $500 million in aid — less than half the minimum $1.25 billion guaranteed to each state — to the chagrin of lawmakers in the region who promised to fix what they called an “intentional” slight.
“Residents of the District pay federal taxes, and deserve the same resources as their fellow citizens in neighboring states.” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement Tuesday. “I urge my Republican colleagues to support this legislation and protect the health and safety of residents of the National Capital Region.”
In addition to giving the District the $755 million its allies say it should have gotten earlier, the Democrats’ bill would allocate future funding according to the District’s city, county and state functions and make the city eligible to participate in a new Federal Reserve short-term borrowing program.
“We felt special urgency to make sure the District fell back into line with how states are treated,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, said in an interview.
The District’s “ultra-urban setting” makes it more vulnerable to a longer pandemic than states that have suburban and rural areas to balance out the urban centers, she said.
“That’s why you see the District not relaxing anything,” she said, referring to efforts in parts of Virginia and Maryland to slowly begin reopening some businesses.
House Democrats’ $3 trillion rescue bill, known as the Heroes Act, includes funding for state and local governments, health systems and a second round of stimulus checks. It would increase food and housing assistance as well as unemployment insurance.
The legislation would be Congress’s fifth coronavirus relief bill. But unlike earlier bipartisan efforts, Democrats and Republicans have not forged an agreement about what steps should be taken to bolster the nation’s struggling finances.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a floor speech that Senate Republicans would rather offer liability protection to businesses to prevent frivolous lawsuits.
D.C. statehood advocates applauded Democrats’ support, but noted funding fixes would not be necessary if Congress would make the District the 51st state.
Bo Shuff, executive director of DC Votes, said until then, residents must endure “the whims of federal legislators.”
“Today’s Heroes Act remedies the harm caused last month,” he said in a statement. “The 705,000 residents of D.C. deserve the same backing as every other American.”