The U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the Senate’s nearly $2 trillion coronavirus economic aid package this afternoon, sending the bill to The White House where President Donald Trump signed it into law around 4 p.m. Central Time.
Coming at the end of a week in which the United States saw its confirmed cases of the virus surpass all other countries in the world, the spending package is targeted to curtail massive unemployment with aid to individuals, small businesses and large industries. It also provides billions to prop up budget shortfalls in state and local governments and equipment and supplies shortages at hospitals and health care providers, among other things.
According to the measure, all U.S. residents with adjusted gross incomes up to $75,000 ( or $150,000 for married couples) will receive a check for $1,200 (or $2,400 for couples). They are also eligible for an additional $500 per child.
Those above those thresholds may be eligible for smaller payments, but single filers who earn more than $99,000 will not receive payments, nor will head-of-household filers with one child who earn more than $146,500; or joint filers with no children who earn more than $198,000.
Those who file for unemployment are slated to receive an extra $600 per week for up to four months on top of state unemployment benefits to make up for lost wages. In Alabama, benefits per week range from a minimum of $45 to a maximum of $275, calculated using each filer’s base period earnings.
State and local governments were awarded $150 billion, which includes a minimum of $1.5 billion for each state and $8 billion set aside for local governments.
Employers will receive a number of concessions, including a tax credit of up to $5,000 for each idle worker they keep on the payroll during the pandemic, provided they meet certain criteria. Employers and the self-employed will be allowed to defer the 6.2 percent wage tax for Social Security.
A $500 billion pot of loans will be available through the Treasury Department for struggling industries, health care providers will be able to tap into $100 billion worth of grants, $30 billion is provided for emergency education funding and $9.5 billion is set aside for emergency aid to ranchers and farmers.
Three of Alabama’s congressional representatives spoke before the voice vote to approve the package today, including Rep. Bradley Byrne of District 1, who acknowledged the rising unemployment and other strains on the economy and health care system caused by the pandemic.
“There are many things in this bill I do not like,” he said. “There are portions that I think are a mistake. But we owe it to the citizens of this great country who are struggling.”
Rep. Mike Rogers of the Third District in East Alabama said, “hospitals in my district face a situation as dire as it’s been in my 18 years of Congress. The capacity just isn’t there … this bill helps rural hospitals by enabling them to buy essential supplies, build needed infrastructure for broadband and telehealth and keep cash flowing so they can remain able to help patients.”
Lee County and the Auburn area are tied with Madison County for the third highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, behind Jefferson and Shelby counties. Rep. Mo Brooks also spoke, urging his colleagues not to point fingers and to set a good example by passing the measure.
When passed by the Senate March 25, Sen. Doug Jones said it was “a bipartisan bill” that “is going to help a lot of people.”
“It’s going to put money into cities and counties to help them deal with this crisis, it’s going to put money in the pockets of small businesses and individuals,” he said. “We have to do things to put money into the hands of people quickly and this was the best way to do that.”
As the largest spending measure ever approved in the history of the United States, both the Senate and House suggested it would likely not be the last approved during the pandemic.
“There are a lot of things we will be looking at in the coming days and I’m not going to let up,” Jones said. “Every day we’re seeing more and more and more cases … we’ve got to take this seriously. But we can only help if we can get together to stop the spread of this virus. Every model I’m seeing says it will probably get worse before it gets better, but Congress is going to be working to make sure economically we’re pumping money to do those kinds of things.”
Separately, Politico reported the deal “includes language making it easier for Congress to dole out money for harbor dredging by exempting from discretionary spending caps the Army Corps of Engineers funding provided through the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund,” a provision which should help the Port of Mobile’s channel dredging project.
“Prominent backers of the push include [Sen. Richard] Shelby and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.),” the report stated. “Shelby has fought repeatedly with his own party over the issue. One Republican aide called the decision ‘an easy give to Shelby, since he’s been wanting it for years and now why not give it to him?’”
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