WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Trump administration officials and top Democrats finalised an agreement early Wednesday (March 25) on a roughly US$2 trillion (S$2.9 trillion) rescue package to confront the coronavirus pandemic, the largest economic stimulus measure in modern history.
After days of partisan bickering and closed-door haggling, negotiators emerged from their final huddle and announced that they had struck a deal to send relief to workers, businesses and hospitals devastated by the pandemic and the economic disruption it has caused. The Senate was expected to pass the mammoth Bill later Wednesday and send it over to the House, which is also planning to move quickly to send it to President Donald Trump for swift enactment.
The sheer size and scope of the package would have been unthinkable only a couple of weeks ago in a deeply polarised Congress that has found it impossible in recent years to agree on major new policy initiatives.
"In effect, this is a wartime level of investment into our nation," Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, said on the Senate floor in announcing the deal.
Here's what's in the package.
THE GOVERNMENT WILL SEND DIRECT PAYMENTS TO TAXPAYERS
Lawmakers agreed to provide US$1,200 in direct payments to taxpayers with incomes up to US$75,000 per year before starting to phase out and ending altogether for those earning more than US$99,000. Families would receive an additional US$500 per child, in an attempt to create a safety net for those whose jobs and businesses are affected by the pandemic.
UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS WILL GROW SUBSTANTIALLY, AND GO TO MANY MORE AMERICANS
Lawmakers agreed to a significant expansion of unemployment benefits that would extend jobless insurance by 13 weeks and include a four-month enhancement of benefits. At the insistence of Democrats, the programme was broadened to include freelancers, furloughed employees and gig workers, such as Uber drivers.
SMALL BUSINESSES WILL RECEIVE EMERGENCY LOANS IF THEY KEEP THEIR WORKERS
The Bill provides federally guaranteed loans available at community banks to small businesses that pledge not to lay off their workers. The loans would be available during an emergency period ending June 30 and would be forgiven if the employer continued to pay workers for the duration of the crisis.
"There is broad general agreement that small businesses in this country will not be able to survive unless there is extraordinary assistance," said Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, who worked with Democrats to create the programme.
"The goal is to keep employees connected to their employers, so that people aren't just having to stay home and aren't just feeling the stress of being laid off, but the uncertainty of whether they'll even have a job to go back to."
DISTRESSED COMPANIES CAN RECEIVE GOVERNMENT BAILOUTS - BUT WITH STRINGS ATTACHED
Loans for distressed companies would come from a US$425 billion fund controlled by the Federal Reserve, and an additional US$75 billion would be available for industry-specific loans - including to airlines and hotels.
The creation of the Federal Reserve fund was one of the chief sticking points in the negotiations, as grim memories of the 2008 Wall Street bailout - which activists in both parties came to regard as a flawed programme that benefited rich corporations at the expense of US workers - hung over the negotiations. Democrats successfully pressed for immediate disclosure of the recipients and stronger oversight, including installing an inspector general and congressionally appointed board to monitor it. Companies that benefit could not engage in stock buybacks while they received government assistance, and for an additional year after that.
Democrats also secured a provision ensuring that Trump family businesses - or those of any other senior government officials - cannot receive loan money through that fund, although they could potentially still benefit from other parts of the Bill.
HOSPITALS STAGGERING UNDER THE BURDEN OF THE CORONAVIRUS WOULD RECEIVE AID
The agreement includes US$100 billion for hospitals and health systems across the nation, Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, told Democrats in an early morning letter. It also includes billions more, he said, to furnish personal and protective equipment and increased for health care workers, testing supplies, and new construction to house patients.
Lawmakers also agreed to increase Medicare payment increases to all hospitals and providers, the letter said.