Senate

7 things to know about the coronavirus stimulus package

Congress is racing to pass a $2 trillion package as the rapid spread of the coronavirus has upended day-to-day life in the United States.

The bill, which passed by the Senate late Wednesday, marks an unprecedented attempt by the federal government to revive the economy and prevent a deep recession. By comparison, the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was $700 billion.

The legislation would have a far-reaching impact while it tries to pump money toward workers, small businesses and industries that have been impacted by the recent economic downturn.

The House will try to pass the bill on Friday as a voice vote, which would prevent having to bring every member back to D.C.

Here are seven things to know.

Cash assistance

The Senate bill will provide a one-time $1,200 check for an individual making up to $75,000 per year or $2,400 for couples earning less than $150,000. After that, it will be scaled down until it reaches a $99,000 income threshold for an individual or $198,000 for a couple and then phased out altogether. It also provides an additional $500 per child. 

The idea quickly gained steam with both the administration and senators as they tried to figure out a way to provide direct financial assistance to Americans. Supporters say the funding could help cover short-term costs such as rent, groceries and utilities, while opponents argue it does little to stimulate the broader economy. 

Some Republicans, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) were vocal critics of the idea, instead pushing for expanded unemployment. Others, such as Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), took issue with a provision in the initial GOP draft that would have given those with little or no tax liability small checks - a minimum of $600. That restriction was ultimately dropped.

President Trump

Democrats got a provision tucked into the massive legislation that prevents businesses controlled by President Trump from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs included in the bill. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told CNN that it applies to not just Trump but also Vice President Pence, heads of executive departments and members of Congress, where four lawmakers have recently faced accusations of insider trading.  

"We wrote a provision, not just the president, but any major figure in government, Cabinet, Senate, congressmen - if they have majority, they have majority control, they can't get grants or loans, and that makes sense. Those of us who write the law shouldn't benefit from the law," Schumer told CNN during an interview on Wednesday. 

The provision would also apply to children, spouses and in-laws of the individuals affected. 

Unemployment

The bill provides four months of bolstered unemployment benefits as Congress braces for a spike in jobless claims, with the spread of the coronavirus curtailing businesses or closing them altogether. 

As part of the bipartisan package, the maximum unemployment benefit would be increased by $600. A GOP Finance Committee aide said the across-the-board increase was more practical because "each state has a different [unemployment insurance] program." 

But the unemployment insurance provision is sparking an eleventh-hour fight, with four GOP senators pushing for an amendment vote that would cap unemployment insurance at 100 percent of wages. 

They argue that, as currently written, the bill could incentivize individuals not to work. The aide rebutted that, saying, "Nothing in this bill incentivizes businesses to lay off employees. In fact it's just the opposite." 

Sens. Graham, Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) warned in a statement that they would oppose fast-tracking the bill over the provision unless they could get an amendment vote. 

Corporate fund

The bill includes a $500 billion corporate liquidity fund to help companies impacted by the coronavirus access credit. 

That includes $46 billion in direct financial assistance, with $25 billion for U.S. airlines, $4 billion for air cargo carriers and $17 billion for other distressed companies related to critical national security. 

The debate over what form of aid to give to airlines was one of the stickiest negotiations in the days-long fight over the stimulus package. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who was at the center of the negotiations, said that he favored giving airlines low-interest loans, but companies warned that the application process was not quick enough to prevent bankruptcy. 

"My preference would have been that like the other industries across America that will access credit through the 13(3) program - I would have preferred the direct funding from the Treasury to the airlines to be in the form of a loan, to be in the form of an extension of credit," Toomey said. 

Schumer, in a letter to his colleagues, outlined a list of restrictions on the aid, including appointing an inspector general to provide oversight, similar to TARP, and "real-time public reporting of Treasury transactions under the Act." 

It would also, according to Schumer, ban stock buybacks for the length of government assistance plus one year for companies receiving loans and specifically prohibit airlines from stock buybacks or executive bonuses.

Health care 

In addition to economic assistance, the bill includes $100 billion for hospitals, which have warned they could soon be overwhelmed by the steady increase in coronavirus cases. 

The bill requires boosting medical supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile amid reports that the country is facing a shortfall of key items such as ventilators, masks and swabs used for coronavirus testing. 

It would also require health insurance companies to pay for coronavirus testing and increase funding for community health centers.

Border wall 

The Senate bill prevents the Pentagon from shifting $10.5 billion in coronavirus funding to a counterdrug account it has been using to fund the U.S.-Mexico border wall. 

The bill would allow the Pentagon to transfer the coronavirus funds to other accounts "except for 'Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities, Defense,'" according to a summary from the Senate Appropriations Committee.

A Democratic summary of the bill described the language as intended to "prevent funds in this title from being diverted to build a wall on the southern border."

Student loans

The bill would defer payments for federally owned student loans for six months, through Sept. 30.

Democrats had wanted to go a step further by having the Education Department make federal student loan payments for the duration of the coronavirus health crisis. The department, under the Democratic plan, would then make an additional payment at the end to make sure every borrower had received $10,000 toward their student loan debt over the duration of the health emergency.

Alexander Bolton and Rebecca Kheel contributed to this report, which was updated on March 26 at 9:47 a.m. 

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