WASHINGTON – The Senate approved a massive stimulus bill to help families and businesses hurt by the coronavirus epidemic on Wednesday.
The bill now moves to the House, which is expected to vote on the measure Friday morning and then send it to President Donald Trump for his signature. This is the third – and by far the most expensive – package Congress has put together to address the coronavirus.
"This is a wartime level of investment into our nation," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “A fight has arrived on our shores. We did not seek it. We did not want it. But now, we are going to win it."
Here are some of the major components of the historic relief package.
Help for familiesThe bill would provide direct payments of up to $1,200 for most individuals and $2,400 for most married couples filing jointly with an extra $500 for each child. Assistance would start to phase out for individuals earning more than $75,000 and for couples with more than $150,000 in income. Unemployment insurance benefits would be expanded, increasing the maximum benefit by $600 a week for up to four months. Benefits would be available to workers who are part-time, self-employed or part of the gig economy. People who are still unemployed after state benefits end could get an additional 13 weeks of help. Food assistance programs would get a boost as would programs to help low-income households avoid eviction and a program to improve internet access in rural areas. Homeowners with federally-backed mortgages would be protected from foreclosures for as long as 180 days. Students with federal loans could suspend payments until October. Students receiving Pell grants who have to drop out because of coronavirus would not be penalized.
Help for small businessesThe bill would give small businesses access to a nearly $350 billion loan program to cover monthly expenses like payroll, rent and utilities. The loans would not have to be repaid if businesses maintained their workforce. The eight weeks of assistance would be retroactive to Feb. 15, 2020 to help bring back workers who have already been laid off.
Help for corporationsThe package includes a financial lifeline to the hardest-hit industries, including passenger and cargo airlines. Another pot of money would be available to help other businesses for a combined $500 billion. Companies receiving assistance would be barred from raising the pay of certain executives. Any company receiving a government loan would be prohibited from buying back stocks while getting assistance as well for an additional year. Businesses controlled by the president, vice president, members of Congress and heads of federal agencies are not eligible for loans. Companies that kept on workers despite a significant loss of revenue could get a tax credit. The bill provides other tax relief to businesses by deferring tax payments, increasing deductibility for interest expenses and allowing immediate expensing of qualified property improvements, especially for the hospitality industry.
Help for health care providersHospitals and medical centers would get billions to handle surging caseloads. Hospitals treating coronavirus patients would also get higher reimbursements form Medicare. Hospitals could request accelerated payments from Medicare. Across-the-board Medicare cuts that were part of a previous deficit reduction agreement would be temporarily halted. Extra funding for the Defense Department includes money to deploy the National Guard and use the Defense Production Act to help fast-track production of needed medical supplies to combat the coronavirus. Rules on using and paying for telehealth services would be eased. Funding would increase for federal agencies to speed work on therapies and a possible coronavirus vaccine, among other activities. When there is a vaccine, Medicare beneficiaries would not have to pay to receive it.
Help for state and local governmentsThe package includes $150 billion to help state and local governments, which have had major unanticipated expenses while losing revenue. States would get a minimum amount and other funds would be allocated through a population-based formula. Disaster relief funding that state and local governments can access as well as a popular funding program for local governments would also be boosted. Child care programs would get a funding boost to help meet emergency staffing needs so health care workers and other critical workers will have child care. States, which have been postponing primaries, would get additional funds to make voting safer such as expanding early voting and the ability to vote by mail. Public transit agencies, which have lost ridership, would get $25 billion in assistance. Airports and Amtrak would also get billions of dollars of assistance. Schools and colleges could access nearly $31 billion to continue to teach students as schools are closed. State and local police and fire departments could get help paying for overtime and for medical items like personal protective equipment. The deadline for states to meet Real ID requirements for enhanced driver's licenses would be extended a year, to no earlier than October of 2021.
Help for the artsMuseums, libraries and arts organizations across the country, which have been closing because of the pandemic, could get a boost from grants to state arts and humanities organizations. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which has been closed until May, would get $25 million so it can reopen its doors once the crisis is over. The Smithsonian Institution would get $7.5 million to help with teleworking, deep cleaning and overtime for security, medical staff, and zoo keepers.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu and Christal Hayes, USA TODAY.