WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Democrats this week introduced a revised stimulus bill to offset economic hardship incurred due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The updated HEROES Act pandemic relief package includes funding provisions for the U.S. Postal Service, coronavirus testing, election security, education, state and local aid, and a second $1,200 stimulus check for taxpayers. The legislation also would allow legal cannabis businesses and their service providers access to banking and insurance services, and would extend Federal unemployment benefits and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.
The updated bill is valued at $2.2 trillion—$1.2 trillion less than the original version of the bill introduced in May.
“The inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act in the HEROES 2.0 package is a positive development,” said Justin Strekal, political director at cannabis law reform nonprofit NORML.
“In the majority of states that regulate the marijuana marketplace, cannabis businesses have been deemed essential during this pandemic. Unfortunately, at the federal level, prohibition compounds the problems that this emerging industry faces. Small cannabis businesses in particular are facing tough economic times and access to traditional financial tools will help ensure that they can weather this pandemic,” Strekal added.
A summary of the provision, located under Division O of the HEROES Act, H.R. 8406, title VI, § 606, reads:
“This section would allow cannabis-related legitimate businesses, that in many states have remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic as essential services, along with their service providers, to access banking services and products, as well as insurance. This section also requires reports to Congress on access to financial services and barriers to marketplace entry for potential and existing minority-owned cannabis-related legitimate businesses.”
An op-ed posted to D.C.-based Libertarian think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute’s (CEI) blog criticized the Democrats’ proposals, and said provisions contained in the updated package will impose too much constraint on credit and banking institutions, in regard to debt collection and credit reporting.
But CEI said also that the SAFE Banking provision was the one financial services provision contained in the HEROES Act that was “worthy of praise.”
“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has declared the HEROES Act ‘dead on arrival’ in the Senate. We suggest that he proceed with his plans to kill the vast majority of bad provisions of this bill, but put the SAFE Banking Act on life support to be passed as part of any future compromise bill,” CEI Policy Analyst Matthew Adams wrote on the nonprofit’s blog.
“Instead of growing government and crippling industries that keep credit flowing, lawmakers should work toward getting rid of #NeverNeeded regulations that hinder getting the nation’s economy back on track. Kudos to House Democrats for recognizing the need to get rid of #NeverNeeded barriers to marijuana banking, and may they and all members of Congress extend this logic to all sectors of the economy,” Adams urged.
Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin (R-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met September 29 to negotiate a compromise that might be approved by the GOP-dominated Senate. The House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on the bill September 30 but delayed the vote, giving Representative Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin more time to reach a compromise.
Political pundits speculate the delayed vote may be a good sign, indicating that more time will allow Mnuchin and Pelosi to reach a compromise on the HEROES Act that will gain bipartisan support.