Mar 29 , 2020
A massive bipartisan effort to provide relief to a U.S. economy on ice just leapt over its last major hurdle. On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a historic stimulus package known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or “CARES” act, which contains an unprecedented $2.2 trillion in total financial relief for businesses, public institutions and individuals hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill passed the House today after Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) took the unpopular step of blocking a voice vote that House members could conduct remotely. House lawmakers quickly returned to Washington to appear in person Friday, where they spread out in the galleries above the House floor for safety. The bill passed with a quorum of more than 216 members of the House present.
“The aid must be robust, rapid and resilient, just like its recipients,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said during proceedings Friday. “We are going to help Americans through this. We are going to do it together.”
“Whatever concerns we may have and whatever we want to do next, right now we’re going to pass this legislation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in her speech on the floor.
To get to a place of fast bipartisan consensus, the bill, shepherded by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, came together through addition rather than subtraction. The result is a sprawling 880-page piece of legislation stuffed with concessions for members of both parties — but one that can provide for Americans quickly. Here are some of the key relief measures targeted toward small businesses, big industry players and a gutted American workforce reeling from job losses.
Expanded unemployment benefits
After Democrats negotiated their own priorities into the bill, it now includes greatly boosted unemployment benefits that will reach workers usually left out in the cold. Under the new legislation, gig workers, contract workers and freelancers will be now eligible for unemployment benefits — a huge boon for anyone not employed full-time.
The bill also includes a substantial additional $600 per week on top of existing state benefits to help the jobless navigate the crisis. Nearly one in five Americans had lost work as of mid-March — a number that’s likely going up.
Those benefits will last four months, in spite of objections from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who claimed the enhanced unemployment provisions could actually give some workers more money than they were making previously, a fact he said “incentivized people not to go back to work.” Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders slammed those objections in a passionate speech on the Senate floor Wednesday night.
“Somebody who’s making 12 bucks an hour now like the rest of us faces an unprecedented economic crisis with 600 bucks on top of their regular unemployment check might be making a few bucks more for four months,” Sanders said. “Oh my word, will the universe survive? How absurd and wrong is that?”
Small businesses can expect some relief. The bill sets aside $350 billion for small business loans up to $10 million, with priority given to women-owned businesses, new businesses and those run by anyone “socially and economically disadvantaged.” A separate $10 billion in emergency small business grants of up to $10,000 is also set aside — an unprecedented measure from the Small Business Administration.
A separate $500 billion pool of money is set aside for bailing out larger businesses hurt by the crisis with emergency loans — a provision of the bill key to its Republican support. In recent days, Democrats were able to work in some oversight measures for how that money gets allocated, provisioning for an inspector general to oversee the process.
The hard-hit airline industry will receive $58 billion from that pool of money, half in loans and half in grants for worker pay. The loans come with some strings attached — to accept them, airlines will have to agree not to lay off workers through the end of September. The package forbids stock buybacks and issuing dividends to shareholders for a year after paying off one of the loans.
The bill also sets aside $100 billion for hospitals and health providers as they struggle to meet the challenge of COVID-19 amid widespread shortages of personal protective equipment and depleted staffs.
In an effort to get companies to spend the money on workers rather than self-enrichment, the bill includes a ban on companies buying back their own stock while receiving help from the federal government and for one year afterward.
One of the most surprising parts of the package is the bipartisan decision to include direct cash payments to Americans, a generally strongly Democratic idea with its roots in universal basic income proposals. The stimulus will include direct cash payments of $1,200 for adults and $500 for children in a move likely to include up to 94% of all tax filers. Above an adjusted gross income of $75,000 for single filers and $150,000 for couples filing jointly the payment phases out by $5 for every $100 in extra income. Single filers without children making $99,000 and couples without children making $198,000 would receive no benefit.
In spite of some Democrats pushing for recurring payments, the benefit is a one-time payout, though some in Congress expect additional payments to be discussed in the near-future bills. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she didn’t think Congress has “seen the end of direct payments.”
The payment will go directly to anyone who received a tax refund through direct deposit in recent years. For everyone else, the government will be sending a check — a process that’s expected to take longer. Some critics of the final bill wanted the direct payments to circumvent the notoriously difficult-to-navigate U.S. tax system, but this is how they ended up.
We’ll be sorting through the finer print in the coming days and looking for ways the stimulus will affect workers, startups and tech giants. To comb through yourself, the full text of the bill is embedded below.