Yesterday, the Senate worked throughout the day to finalize and pass the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” (CARES Act), a stimulus bill to aid families, businesses as COVID-19 has spread sickness and damaged the economy.
The measure provides $2 trillion dollars to provide loans for small businesses and non-profits; expand unemployment benefits; fund hospitals, health care providers and medical testing; and send direct payments to “qualified individuals.”
For those who qualify, the legislation makes direct payments of $1,200 for individuals, $2,400 for couples, and $500 for children. To receive the checks, individuals must have incomes at or below $75,000, with a threshold of $112,500 for heads of households and $150,000 for couples filing jointly. Payments are gradually phased out above those income levels, until they end for single taxpayers with incomes exceeding $99,000 and $198,000 for joint filers.
The bill provides some relief as the country has been deeply affected. Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering reports that COVID-19 has infected almost half a million people and caused more than 22,295 deaths around the globe. In the U.S., there are almost 70,000 confirmed cases with over 1,000 deaths.
Quarantine efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus have shaken the entire economy, bringing a downturn to the stock market (though it is beginning to bounce back), affecting housing prices and taking unemployment levels to record highs. The Labor Department released new unemployment numbers today, a record 3.28 million Americans filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week.
The CARES Act, S.B. 3548, grew from an initial 240 page draft late Tuesday morning to a final version of 880 pages. It passed the Senate in a unanimous vote of 96-0, just before midnight.
Disputes over the relief package have been contentious over the past weeks, since the House and Senate began working separately on different measures. Democrats in the House crafted the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act,” H.R. 6379, and criticized the Senate for focusing on businesses over families.
The House bill, on the other hand, has been disparaged for its many provisions unrelated to personal and economic fallout from the COVID-19 shutdown. Extraneous items included providing money to cities that give sanctuary to illegal immigrants; requiring early voting and same-day voter registration; and requiring that companies receiving assistance have a $15 minimum wage.
Now, the legislation now moves to the House, which is not meeting today, but will begin discussing it tomorrow. In a press release, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action.”
She continued, offering some support for the CARES Act: “This bipartisan legislation takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people. While the compromise does not go as far as our Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, thanks to the unity and insistence of Senate and House Democrats, the bill has moved a great deal closer to America’s workers.”
Pelosi gave a press conference today about the CARES Act where she appeared to take credit for the measure. She said, “We’re very proud of the product. We did Jiu-Jitsu on it that it went from a corporate first proposal that the Republicans put forth in the Senate to a Democratic workers first legislation.”
Later, she praised Democrats who worked on the bill saying they did not get “everything we want, but recognizing that we won the day.” She also said that she and the House may be looking to add even more to the $2 trillion package, saying, “We want more, and this was a big strong step, but [we] need more.”
Pelosi described what some of that “more” may look like, saying, “Then one of the important things that just we have to insist upon, we said free testing, free testing, free testing, but with retesting is the visit to the doctor’s office, the treatment that goes with it, and that has to be free.”