Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing readers free access to critical local stories about the coronavirus during this time of heightened concern. See more coverage here. To support journalism like this, please consider donating or become a subscriber.
Washington • Congress is close to approving a historically massive stimulus bill, topping $2 trillion, to flood the country with much-needed cash as the coronavirus cripples the economy.
The Senate passed the bill Wednesday and the House is expected to follow suit Friday with President Donald Trump ready to sign.
Most Americans will see a check or direct deposit in their bank account, small businesses will get access to cheap loans, airlines will get a bailout and national parks will get money for sanitizing tourist-filled areas.
The measure, the third round of legislation aimed a softening the economic hit from the virus outbreak, is about 700 pages long but here’s a glance at what it would mean for Utah and the nation.
Most Americans will see a one-time payment to help them cope with the fallout of the coronavirus, similar to money the federal government shipped to them in 2001 and 2008.
For the most part, a single person would get $1,200, a married couple $2,400 and parents would get $500 for each dependent child under 17. The payments, though, would taper off for those making more than $75,000 with no money for those earning more than $99,000.
Americans who don't earn enough money to pay taxes will see a smaller amount.
The payments will be based on your 2018 tax return numbers unless you've already filed your 2019 taxes.
The cost? About $250 million.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, was the first Republican in Congress to suggest a direct payment to Americans suffering from the coronavirus outbreak, though his plan stopped at $1,000 and had no wage maximum.
Romney said Wednesday that the personal check would be a big help for most Americans at this time.
“It’s a bit of a refund, if you will, because people put a lot of money into Washington every year,” Romney said.
But don't check your mailbox tomorrow for the check.
While Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had said he wanted to get the checks to people “within three weeks,” it’s unlikely to be that fast. It took six weeks for checks to be sent out in 2001 and three months in 2008.
Beyond the individual payments, the bill also includes lots of money for social programs meant to help those in need as well as to assist rural areas.
That includes more than $15 billion for food stamps, nearly $9 billion for child nutrition programs, $450 million for food banks and $25 million for distance learning and telemedicine. There’s also $100 million earmarked for boosting broadband internet access to rural areas.
Unemployment benefits will also be extended by 13 weeks with a four-month hike in benefits. Those covered include workers in the gig economy, such as Uber drivers, as well as furloughed employees who previously couldn’t apply for unemployment benefits because they technically still had jobs.
The legislation includes guaranteed loans to small businesses through community banks, backed by the government. The loans would be forgiven in a year if the employer retains and pays its workers for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
There's also $1.5 billion for assistance to help local communities impacted by the virus outbreak to help rebuild tourism economies or ensure manufacturing supply chains.
The Federal Reserve will have $425 billion to dole out to distressed companies plus $75 billion for specific industries like airlines and hotels. The bill lays out $25 billion in cash grants to the domestic airline industry as long as the carriers do not lay off employees, matched by $25 billion in guaranteed loans.
That’s big news for companies such as Delta Airlines, which has a hub at Salt Lake City International Airport and has reduced domestic flights by about 70%.
Cargo carriers and airline contractors, such as food vendors, will split another $7 billion.
At the request of Democrats, no money from the funds could be sent to companies owned by Trump, members of Congress or their immediate families, and every payment must be detailed in a report to congressional committees.
States and cities
There's $45 billion in the bill for immediate needs of states, cities and tribal governments to help them protect their residents in addition to $200 million for programs to help shelter and feed families in sudden economic crisis. The bill also allows for $100 million for personal protective equipment for states to provide for first responders.
Another $5 billion is slated for block grants to local communities impacted by the virus.
There’s also $850 million in additional grants to state and local police departments and jails to help with needs during the coronavirus outbreak.
The federal government’s deadline that all driver licenses and identification cards be up to standards of the REAL ID Act (think gold star) has been postponed a year until October 2021.
Health care facilities
The bill includes $130 billion to hospitals, including grants to facilities, public entities and nonprofits and those entities enrolled for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. The Veterans Administration will get $590 million for supporting veterans at increased risk of coronavirus as well as $3 billion more for temporary sites to help those who served in the armed forces.
About $4 billion is slated to help individuals and families experiencing homelessness or at risk of losing their homes and are affected by the coronavirus, including money to prevent evictions. About $3 billion is set aside for housing providers to the millions of low-income families living in subsidized housing.
Beyond money to prop up the airline industry, the legislation includes money to help Amtrak, which has shuttered some services because of the drop in passengers. The money is aimed at the Northeast Corridor as well as train lines through more rural parts of the country.
Public transit agencies, such as the Utah Transit Authority, could seek money from a $25 billion pot geared to helping protect the public’s health and safety while ensuring buses and rail lines continue operating.
Schools and universities
As schools and places of higher education shutter classrooms or shift to online classes, the bill includes more than $30 billion to help states, school districts and universities hit with extraordinary costs because of the virus outbreak.
Governors across the country will get a share of $3 billion to spend on emergency grants to local educational entities.
Native American communities
The bill provides several funding streams to help Native Americans across the country with their health care and education systems, boost food stamps and money for housing. A housing program for native peoples will get $200 million with an additional $100 million aimed at helping prevent threats to health and safety on reservations.
Some $1.4 billion is set aside for funding National Guard troops activated because of the coronavirus.
More than $158 million would be given to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to dole out to help national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands affected by the virus outbreak. That includes funding to sanitize public areas and clean buildings as well as support law enforcement efforts and emergency personnel. The Forest Service would also get $70 million for prevention, mitigation and recovery activities related to the coronavirus.
States could vie for $400 million in money to prepare for this year's election, including to enhance vote-by-mail options, expand early voting and online registration.
What’s not in the bill?
The coal industry had asked for the government to waive fees for royalties owed the federal government, some of which goes to the states; money owed to funds to reclaim former mines; and pay for miners afflicted by black lung disease. The bill does not address those issues.