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WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a $2 trillion coronavirus aid bill late Wednesday evening, the largest relief package in the country’s history.
The recovery bill passed unanimously, 96–0 (with four senators self-quarantining due to the coronavirus). It still has to clear the House before taking effect, which could happen as early as Thursday. President Donald Trump has said he will immediately sign the bill into law.
The package floods the country with money in an attempt to blunt the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak. It provides hundreds of billions of dollars to businesses, state governments, and the health care industry, as well as direct cash injections to most American residents.
The bill authorizes a direct payment of $1,200 to every US resident with a social security number who makes up to $75,000 per year, plus $500 per child. People who earn more than $75,000 will receive a smaller payment and the checks are phased out completely for people who make over $99,000.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is authorized to dole out $500 billion in loans to distressed businesses, including up to $29 billion earmarked for the airline industry. Another $350 billion in loans will got to providing eight weeks of cash flow for small businesses. The loans will be forgiven if the businesses maintain their payroll.
Congress has been in tense, around-the-clock negotiations for days and the bill’s final text was not released until around 10 p.m., a half an hour before voting began.
The most contentious provision ended up being offering $600 per week, over four months, in federal unemployment assistance to laid-off employees. A small group of Republican senators argued these payments are so generous they would create a disincentive to work, and they threatened to delay passage of the bill unless payments were capped.
This caused Sen. Bernie Sanders counter-threaten to hold up the bill unless more strict conditions were put on corporate aid. In the end, the Republican group failed to get Trump to back their cause. They put forward an amendment to cap unemployment payments, which needed 60 votes to pass but failed on a 48–48 vote.
The aid package now has to clear the House of Representatives. The House is currently in recess, and it is not clear whether the bill will sail through quickly or if all 430 current members will need to be summoned from across the country for a full vote.
The House has the tools to pass the bill immediately, but if even a single member demands a full recorded vote on the House floor then the entire body will need to be recalled. There are grumblings in both parties. Progressives argue the bill is too friendly to big business and does not do enough for workers. Some Republicans say the bill contains too many Democratic pet projects and enlarges the size of government. Independent Rep. Justin Amash tweeted that the bill “is a raw deal for the people” that “does far too little for those who need the most help, while providing hundreds of billions in corporate welfare.”
But so far no member has committed to forcing a full vote. With rent checks coming due at the end of the month, party leaders are urging passage without delay.
Once the bill is signed into law, Congress is scheduled to be out until April 20.
Other key parts of the bill include:
A tax credit of up to $10,000 for wages paid by businesses hit hard by the coronavirus, to incentivize keeping staff on the payroll.
More than $3 billion in emergency funding for child care.
Funding for states to immediately begin paying out unemployment benefits when someone is laid off.
Allowing employers (but not employees) to defer paying their share of social security tax on wages. That tax would have to be paid over the next two years.
A series of measures that expand telehealth services.
$100 billion for hospitals and health care providers.
A $150 billion relief fund for the states.
$16 billion to acquire ventilators and other medical equipment.
$4 billion for homeless assistance (though SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps, was not expanded in the bill).
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