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$1.8 trillion economic stimulus bill in limbo over partisan disputes

Plus: 3M says it’s now producing 35 million N95 masks a month; local Wisconsin officials flooded with absentee ballots in runup to presidential primary; southern Minnesota church offers drive-thru services; and more.

U.S. Capitol Building
U.S. Capitol Building
REUTERS/Jason Reed

A quartet of reporters from The Washington Post writes: “Senate Democrats blocked a massive coronavirus stimulus bill from moving forward Sunday as partisan disputes raged over the legislation that’s aimed at arresting the economy’s precipitous decline. Lawmakers had hoped to pass the enormous $1.8 trillion bill by Monday but Sunday night they were scrambling to revive talks, with the stock market poised for another sharp drop and households and businesses fretting about an uncertain future. … A major sticking point is a $500 billion pool of money for loans and loan guarantees that Republicans want to create, which some Democrats are labeling a “slush fund” because the Treasury Department would have broad discretion over who receives the money.

For CBS MarketWatch, Mark DeCambre and Mike Murphy report, “U.S. stock-index futures fell by the most allowable for the day Sunday evening as the cases of coronavirus globally neared 330,000 and the market appeared unhappy with a lack of government action to address the current and expected fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, a U.S. central bank official estimated that the unemployment rate could surge from just over 3% to 30% at its peak as businesses shutter in an effort to clamp down on the spread of the deadly illness.”

Also from the Washington Post, this from Jeanne Whalen: “3M said it is ready to rush additional shipments across the country and will almost double production of the masks over the next year, to an annual rate of 2 billion masks worldwide. That is a bigger increase than the 30 percent boost the company announced Friday. 3M factories in South Dakota and Nebraska are now producing 35 million N95 masks a month, 90 percent of which are designated for health-care workers after a change in law last week eliminated the threat of lawsuits from such sales.”

In the Pioneer Press, Kristi BelCamino says, “Sewers are being hailed as grassroots soldiers on the front line against the spread of coronavirus as Twin Cities health care and elder facilities plea for them to make and donate face masks. ‘My sewing machine is my weapon against this enemy. Let’s stitch together,’ read a recent meme on the American Sewing Guild, Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter’s Facebook page this weekend. … The movement has quickly caught fire across the Twin Cities. In response to the outpouring of help, Treadle Yard Goods on Grand Avenue in St. Paul offered free kits to make CDC-approved face masks Sunday and sold out of its 50 kits within moments. Many people in line to get the kits stayed to buy their own materials to make the masks.”

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For RiverTown Multimedia, Rachel Helgeson writes: “Local Wisconsin municipalities are being flooded with absentee ballots submissions and added election protocols as residents limit social exposure to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. In New Richmond alone, the city has seen a 300% increase in the number of absentee ballots since the February election, according to city clerk Michelle Scanlan. Hudson and River Falls are also seeing an increase is absentee ballot submissions. The Spring Election and Presidential Preference Primary is April 7.”

In the Mankato Free Press, Dan Greenwood writes: “March 15 was probably the last Sunday that Pastor Scott Richards of Trinity Lutheran Church near Gaylord would lead a traditional, physical service for the foreseeable future, but it gave him a chance to prepare the congregation for what was to come. ‘Everything is improv right now,’ Richards said. ‘It’s trying to figure out how can we still be a community while we’re apart?’ His answer was a drive-thru church service where people wouldn’t even have to leave their cars. ‘We can maintain a safe distance,’ he said. ‘People would still have a chance to see others, which I think is a blessing.’”

For the Duluth News Tribune, columnist Jim Heffernan writes, “I have a close association with the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and how it affected Duluth. You could say one degree of separation. Two years before she died in 1983, I sat my mother down before a tape recorder with the purpose of recording her memories of the historic 1918 fire that devastated Cloquet, Moose Lake, rural Duluth and threatened the city itself. … Almost as an aside, she mentioned that they were wearing masks because of what she termed the ‘flu ban’ when no public gatherings were allowed. Theaters, schools, churches all were closed, she said. Downtown stores were open. … How long did the flu ban last? Six weeks, she recalled. It’s safe to say that the great 1918 fire in this region on top of the Spanish flu pandemic had to be the darkest days in Northland history. … And all this going on as World War I raged in Europe, then drawing to a close with further millions of lives lost worldwide. So we’ve been there before.”

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