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U.S. Senate Passes $2.2 Trillion COVID-19 Stimulus

The US Capitol Building, viewed from the rear of the property.

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill 96-0, aiding a national economy frozen by the COVID-19 outbreak late Wednesday night, with $1.25 billion earmarked for Rhode Island.

Now that it has been passed by the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives must also approve the measure before it can be signed into law by the president.  The House is expected to vote Friday, according to U.S. Sen. Jack Reed’s office.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Raimondo said of the state’s response to limit spread of COVID-19.

During such efforts, Rhode Island is likely to experience ups and downs as it works through the crisis, and word of the bill, not yet approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, signaled a break from the harsh last few weeks, Raimondo said.

“This is a definite up, a $2 trillion dollar stimulus package, unprecedented, in its size, scale, and scope,” Raimondo said, and done in “very short order,” Raimondo said during her daily State House COVID-19 briefing.

Raimondo thanked and congratulated the efforts of RI’s congressional delegation for their efforts to pass the legislation. “So I have to say ‘thank-you,’ on behalf of a grateful Rhode Island, to Senators Reed and Whitehouse and Congressmen Langevin and Cicilline. It wouldn’t have happened without you guys.”

Reed said the bipartisan package will help address the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from both a health and economic standpoint and includes additional aid for people, hospitals, states, and Main Street businesses.

Reed, part of a 20-member bipartisan working group that helped craft the agreement, spearheaded efforts to include fiscal help for states and worked to successfully include other important measures to expanded unemployment insurance, aid small businesses, boost transportation and economic development programs, and impose tougher restrictions on corporate bailouts.

As a result, Reed said the bipartisan package will provide a massive infusion of resources for hospitals, medical facilities, and public health infrastructure.  It directs financial assistance to Americans in the form of expanded unemployment insurance and direct rebate checks.  It includes $377 billion to help small businesses nationwide with their cash-flow by establishing a program that provides small businesses with federally-guaranteed loans that would be forgiven if employers keep their workers on payroll throughout the coronavirus crisis.

“People come first.  This bill ramps up vital support for the health and well-being of all Americans.  It will provide a historic surge of financial assistance to the unemployed, hospitals and health centers, and small businesses to strengthen people’s health and the health of our economy.  Rhode Islanders are being buffeted by this international pandemic, and we’ve got to do everything we can to keep families afloat, help businesses survive, and stabilize the economy as we steer through this pandemic,” said Senator Reed, who took a lead role in creating a $150 billion coronavirus relief fund to help states meet their financial obligations as they marshal resources to care for their citizens and effectively combat this pandemic.

As a result of Reed’s efforts, Rhode Island will receive $1.25 billion from this state stabilization funding.

 According to Raimondo, it funds direct support for local businesses, particularly small businesses:

  • Small business loans that can be forgiven if the business agrees to keep new hires supported by the loan long-term.
  • Relief to hospitals. “Our hospitals are struggling,” Raimondo said.
  • More expansive unemployment benefits. now available for independent contractors, small business owners, and professionals such as hairdressers. “My heart really goes out to you guys. You’re the ones who haven’t been able to file for ui but yet you’re out of work,” Raimondo said.

“I championed these funds because no state, including Rhode Island, could ever have budgeted for this kind of pandemic.  States are being forced to shoulder considerable and unexpected costs as they combat coronavirus, and these funds should provide some additional firepower,” said Senator Reed.

Raimondo offered special thanks to Reed Wednesday afternoon while the bill waited Senate approval.

“Jack has been in the meetings with Secretary Mnuchin, he has been really, incredibly active. On a personal note, I have to say, ‘thank-you,’ I call him or talk to him a half a dozen times a day. I began my day today (Wednesday) with an early morning text from the senator delivering the good news.”

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Reed supported and successfully helped include several other major initiatives in the bill and was instrumental in shaping several key provisions, including:

  • Expanded unemployment benefits that boost the maximum benefit by $600 per week and provides laid-off workers their full pay for four months.  The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program expands unemployment insurance to cover individuals who are not currently covered by traditional unemployment assistance, including: Individuals who are unable to work because of coronavirus, whether due to illness, quarantine or child care needs; individuals who are self-employed, including gig workers and freelancers; and part-time workers.
  • Direct payments of $1,200 to most individuals making up to $75,000, or $2,400 for couples making up to $150,000.  The amount decreases for individuals with incomes above $75,000, and payments are cut off for those earning above $99,000.
  • $377 billion in loans for small businesses, including $350 billion in loan forgiveness grants to small businesses and non-profits, $10 billion for SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000; and $17 billion for the SBA to cover six months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans.
  • $150 billion for hospitals, health centers, and medical professionals.  This includes critical funding for research, treatment, and to boost supplies of ventilators, respirator masks, and other life-saving equipment.  $16 billion will be directed to replenish the Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies and equipment.
  • $45 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund, more than doubling the available funding, to provide for the immediate needs of state and local governments as well as private non-profits performing critical and essential services, to protect citizens and help them recover from COVID-19. Reimbursable activities may include medical response, personal protective equipment, National Guard deployment, coordination of logistics, safety measures, and community services.
  • $30.75 billion for grants to provide emergency support to local K-12 schools and higher education institutions to continue to provide educational services to their students and support the on-going functionality of school districts and institutions.  This funding could help K-12 schools with education, technology, and sanitization needs.
  • $36 billion for transportation programs, including $25 billion for transit systems (including about $100 million for RIPTA), $10 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration and airports, and $1 billion to recapitalize Amtrak and ensure continued service in the busy Northeast Corridor.
  • $14.4 billion in additional funding for medical services for veterans and an additional $150 million for grants for state extended care facilities to prepare and respond to COVID-19.
  • $5 billion in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).  Communities around Rhode Island, including Cranston, East Providence, Pawtucket, Providence, Warwick, and Woonsocket will receive flexible CDBG grants to support local efforts to confront the pandemic.
  • $7 billion for affordable housing and homelessness assistance programs to help vulnerable populations avoid evictions and minimize any impacts caused by loss of employment, and child care, or other unforeseen circumstances related to COVID-19, and support additional assistance to prevent eviction and for people experiencing homelessness.
  • The bill also includes Senator Reed’s language to protect and reimburse taxpayers and ensure accountability.  A provision modeled after Reed’s Protecting Taxpayers’ Return on Investment Act (S. 3526) helps ensure that taxpayers taking financial risks for struggling companies and distressed industries get paid back and may then share in potential rewards when the businesses recover.  It grants the federal government ‘warrants’ to acquire non-voting stock in these firms so that when they recover, taxpayers also benefit.
  • Language to provide financing for work share layoff prevention programs.  Work sharing is a voluntary, short-time compensation program that preserves jobs by giving employers an alternative to layoffs during times of decreased demand.  It provides struggling companies the flexibility to reduce hours instead of their workforce and helps employers save money on rehiring costs, while employees who participate in work sharing keep their jobs and receive a portion of unemployment insurance benefits to make up for lost wages.  This provision is modeled after Reed’s Layoff Prevention Act, which Congress previously enacted from 2012 to 2015, saving over 130,000 jobs at the time.  Administered at the state level and reimbursed by the federal government, nearly 30 states have already used some form of work sharing program to help businesses and workers in their communities.  The bill includes 100 percent federal funding of work share programs for states with programs already in place, and 50 percent federal funding of work share programs for states that work with the U.S. Department of Labor to develop a new work-share plan.
  • $3.5 billion for the Child Care And Development Block Grant and $750 million for Head Start to support child care and early education to ensure that essential workers have access to child care; to ensure that the child care workforce is protected and supported; and to support continuity of education for our youngest learners.
  • $1 billion for the Defense Production Act (DPA) to bolster domestic supply chains, enabling industry to quickly ramp up production of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other urgently needed medical supplies, and billions of dollars more for federal, state, and local health agencies to purchase needed, high-in-demand equipment.
  • $900 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help low-income families and seniors, including the unemployed, pay their utility bills.
  • $400 million in election assistance for the states to help prepare for the 2020 election cycle, including to increase the ability to vote by mail, expand early voting and online registration, and increase the safety of voting in-person by providing additional voting facilities and more poll workers.
  • $300 million to help fishermen struggling due to disappearing economic markets caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishermen, as well as aquaculture farmers, are all eligible.
  • $100 million for Assistance to Firefighter Grants for personal protective equipment for our nation’s first responders.
  • $100 million for Emergency Management Performance Grants for state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to support coordination, communications, and logistics.
  • $50 million for Manufacturing Extension Partnership program to help small- and medium-sized manufacturers recover by finding value within the supply chain and expanding markets.
  • $50 million in funding for public libraries to expand digital network access and purchase Internet accessible devices to help meet the information and needs of Americans.
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While the bill includes Republican’s proposal to bail out the airline industry, it now comes with stricter conditions designed to help save jobs and protect workers, including limits on stock buybacks and dividends.  The bill also includes requirements for real-time public reporting of Treasury transactions under the Act, including terms of loans, investments, or other assistance to corporations.  It prohibits any businesses controlled by the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, and heads of Executive Departments, from getting loans or investments from Treasury programs.

This is the third in a series of emergency coronavirus measures that Congress has taken up.  The first two included an $8 billion appropriation to help address the spread of the virus and a $100 billion-plus package that includes funds for free testing and expanded paid sick leave.

Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of WarwickPost.com. Contact him at editor@warwickpost.com with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.