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Senate Passes Bipartisan Relief Package Amid COVID-19 Economic Downturn

Mar 26, 2020
Originally published on March 27, 2020 5:26 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Last night, the Senate voted unanimously to approve the biggest economic aid package in the history of this country. Around $2 trillion will be injected into the heart of the economy to alleviate the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That legislation now goes to the House and then to the president's desk. NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been looking into the details of the bill. Good morning, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: What will this legislation mean for ordinary Americans who've been hurt?

SNELL: Well, I think the two biggest items for individuals and families are the direct checks and unemployment insurance. Start with the checks that we've talked about many times in - on our programming - are the $1,200 checks to people earning $75,000 or less. And it would be double the amount - so $2,400 - for married couples and $500 for families with children, so $500 per child. Now, those will be largely direct deposits if the IRS has your information on file, and if it does, that money could go out within the next couple of weeks.

The other thing I think is really important to point out is unemployment insurance. This bill includes $600 in additional unemployment insurance for people who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus. Now, that lasts for four months, and that is on top of whatever the state is currently paying unemployed people. There's also an expansion to gig workers, people who are on contracts, who are freelancers. And that expansion to allow them to collect unemployment lasts through the end of the year.

KING: So a lot of help for individuals - also, though, help for small businesses.

SNELL: Yeah, $350 billion in forgivable loans. So if a business takes out a loan and then uses it on payroll, or rent, or mortgage or past debts that they need to pay to stay afloat, that could be forgiven. And the tax credits are also available to keep people on payroll even if they're not working, so up to $10,000 per employee this year.

KING: OK, so keep people in their jobs as opposed to having to let them go. The health care system, Kelsey, is pretty darn stretched at the moment. What does this bill provide in terms of help there?

SNELL: Yeah. With the health care system - is being treated much like the rest of this bill. It's like a life preserver. Everything in this bill as it's been described to me is, they - every member I've talked to, every staffer I've talked to said it's all about keeping things going. And so this includes $100 billion to hospitals and more money into the CDC. There's also more money for community health centers. The goal here, when it comes to hospitals, is making sure that they can free up beds, that they can buy supplies, that they can meet the needs that are expected to begin spiking.

I mean, we're already seeing an increase in cases, and the hospitals have been saying that they are not well-prepared and not well enough funded to handle this. So there are more rules and incentives to build up stockpiles of essential gear to make sure that they're meeting their needs. Like I said, it's all about making sure that they fill a gap. And Congress has said that they don't expect this to be their last legislation, so there may be more action in the future.

KING: Oh, that is interesting and very telling. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.