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Direct payments, unemployment extensions and small business loans: what’s in the $2 trillion federal stimulus bill

On Wednesday night, the Senate passed the CARES Act, the third and largest coronavirus (COVID-19) response package: a $2 trillion bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell giving a thumbs up while entering the Senate Chamber Floor after Congress agreed to a multi-trillion dollar economic stimulus package.
REUTERS/Tom Brenner

You might get a $1,200 check in the mail.

On Wednesday night, the U.S. Senate passed the CARES Act, the third and largest coronavirus (COVID-19) legislative package: a $2 trillion bill that contains coronavirus response resources for medical facilities, states, and cities; business grants and loans; corporate bailouts (and some oversight of those corporate bailouts); and direct payments to most Americans.

The House is expected to pass the bill by voice vote on Friday morning.

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Direct payments to Americans

Individual taxpayers making up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income will receive $1,200 checks and $500 for each child. Married couples will each receive the same ($2,400), if they earn under $150,000. After that, the credit amount sent slowly decreases.

Individuals making over $99,000 and couples making above $198,000 will not receive the payments. Taxpayers who file as “head of household,” but are unmarried, are limited to an income of $146,500.

The payments will be direct deposited if the IRS has a taxpayer’s bank information already. If not, paper checks could take up to four months to be sent by mail, according to the New York Times.

The proposal for direct cash has come a long way since just a week ago. Then, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters that the White House wanted to go with a direct cash program. Sen. Mitt Romney announced his support, saying every American should get a check for $1,000.

Additional proposals followed. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado; Cory Booker, D-New Jersey;  and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, suggested an immediate $2,000 payment to U.S. adults and children under a certain income threshold. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis proposed $1,000 per adult and $500 per child.

Outside of the direct cash payments, there are also major additions to unemployment benefits included in the bill. The bill also increases the maximum weekly benefit by $600 for up to four months. Unemployment benefits could also be extended by around 3 months (13 weeks). Additionally, self-employed people are now eligible for unemployment benefits, calculated based on prior income. The same goes for workers whose workplaces have been closed or shut down because of coronavirus, or who have had to leave work to care for children after schools or and child care centers closed.

Help for businesses

The bill provides specific allocations for a variety of sectors, including small businesses, hospitals, and farmers.

For example, the bill provides $349 billion in small business loans administered through the Small Business Administration. If they are spent on payroll, rent, or utilities, they can be converted into grants that don’t have to be repaid.

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For hospitals, the bill provides over $100 billion. It also increases reimbursements for treating Medicare patients with coronavirus by 20 percent.

And for farmers, the bill also authorizes $14 billion to the Commodity Credit Corp spending authority, which has been used in recent years to compensate farmers for the trade war with China, and another $9.5 billion to U.S. farmers hurt by the virus. The latter will be used to help livestock ranchers, particularly cattle, hog, and dairy farmers.

All of this spending will have oversight: Rep. Dean Phillips, the freshman House member from Minnesota’s Third District, was able to get language into the bill that calls for a congressional oversight panel to review  how money from the legislation is disbursed. For example, the Federal Reserve will manage a fund of $425 billion in order to provide loans to companies in need, with an additional $75 billion allocates to specific industries like airlines or hotels. The commission, composed of members appointed by both the House and the Senate, will oversee these loans and other disbursements.

“We are about to inject a massive and unprecedented amount of taxpayers’ money into our economy to protect jobs and keep businesses afloat,” Phillips said in a statement. “This requires proper oversight to prevent corruption and ensure the money is being used efficiently and effectively.”

The missing four

The 883-page Senate bill passed unanimously, 96-0.

Four senators missed the vote due to coronavirus concerns. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, did not vote, after testing positive for coronavirus this week. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, are self-quarantined after interacting with Paul. And Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota,  is self-monitoring after feeling sick.

A consequence of Republicans losing four members: an amendment proposed by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, which would cap unemployment insurance at an employee’s previous wage, failed in a 48-48 vote that was largely along party lines. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-West Virginia, voted for the amendment, while Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, voted against it.

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More than three million U.S. workers filed unemployment claims last week. Minnesota received more than 95,000 applications alone. And in the last few days, that number has risen to 149,000. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, threatened to place a hold on the bill, should Republicans have succeeded on the amendment.

President Donald Trump said that once it hits his desk, he aims to sign it immediately.

This is the third and largest coronavirus response legislation package. The first provided $8.3 billion in emergency medical funding, and the second, $100 billion to expand paid leave and unemployment insurance.