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At the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, Congress passed a stimulus package that famously included $1,200 checks for many Americans. That aid package was one of three passed in March as the U.S. first began dealing with the pandemic’s devastating economic impacts. A fourth aid package introduced this month has taken longer to pass, but yesterday, the Senate voted to approve this newest aid package. Here’s everything that’s in it.
Small business relief
As COVID-19 began spreading rapidly in the U.S., many bars, restaurants, clubs, and other small businesses dependent on in-person customer traffic had to shut their doors to limit person-to-person spread (large gatherings and spaces where people are closely grouped are prime routes of COVID-19 transmission). These closures haven’t eliminated the many bills that these spaces have to pay, and many of these businesses have been vocal about this struggle. Additionally, business financial struggles have resulted in massive layoffs throughout the affected industries, with 60 percent of layoffs in March stemming from bars and restaurants.
A large number of bars and restaurants are independently owned small businesses that have turned to the Paycheck Protection Program, which is part of the CARES Act COVID-19 relief fund, for financial assistance. However, due to the severity of the COVID-19 crisis, the Paycheck Protection Program ran out of money last week. The newest COVID-19 aid package gives $310 billion more to the program, though not all of it will be available to the nightlife industry that has dominated layoffs since the pandemic first began.
The newest Congressional aid package designates tens of billions of dollars from the Paycheck Protection Program not for bars and restaurants, but small- and mid-sized banks and community-based lenders. Another $100 billion will go to hospitals and medical providers, which have struggled to keep up as the COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmed healthcare facilities. Of this money, $25 billion will be used for testing supplies and access.
Why did the newest aid package take longer to pass?
Originally, Republican congresspeople and the Trump administration sought not to include a national strategic testing policy in the healthcare portion of the newest aid package. Democratic congresspeople pushed back, and though their efforts delayed the bill from passing, the final aid package does include a national strategic testing policy, which the vast majority of experts say is a key early step to take before society and the economy reopen. The details of this testing policy are not yet entirely clear, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) issued a joint statement saying the policy would “focus on increasing testing capacity including testing supplies.”
Yesterday, President Trump tweeted his support for the bill, which he is expected to sign sometime tomorrow. Nevertheless, Democrats want stronger provisions in the next COVID-19 congressional aid package. In their joint statement, Pelosi and Schumer also expressed disappointment that the newest COVID-19 aid package did not include more money for state and local budgets. They also said that the next bill must prioritize reopening lost jobs, stabilizing the economy, and ensuring health and safety. In their words, the next bill must be no less than “transformative and far-reaching.”