By Bobby Frederick, Director of Legislative Affairs and Public Policy
Congress and President Trump are on the verge of delivering a historic $2 trillion measure designed to help stabilize the economy in response to the adverse economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. The measure would provide direct payments to many Americans, hundreds of billions of dollars in loans for companies and small businesses, and $100 billion for hospitals.
H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, unanimously passed the Senate late Wednesday evening (March 25) by a vote of 96-0. House leaders returned to session Thursday morning and party leadership strongly suggested the measure would pass by unanimous consent without necessitating the return of more than 400 members of Congress.
The measure is more than twice the size of the 2008 stimulus ($831 billion) Congress passed in response to the financial crisis and comes on the heels of news from the U.S. Department of Labor that 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, decimating the previous record of 695,000 claims in October 1982.
From the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) perspective, the measure provides $25.6 billion for the department’s food and nutrition programs, $14 billion in additional borrowing authority for the Commodity Credit Corporation, and $9.5 billion in support for producers and local food systems. Also included is a measure that would enable the full use of revenues collected in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for port dredging.
The legislation would provide a direct payment of up to $1,200 for Americans with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $75,000 or less and married couples with an AGI of $112,500 or less. Reduced payments would begin to phase out completely for individuals with an AGI above $99,000 and married couples with an AGI above $198,000. Married couples and heads of household would receive an additional $500 per child. More information will be available on www.IRS.gov.
After passing H.R. 748, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced the chamber would recess until April 20, but left open the possibility of returning early if necessary. Leaders in both political parties have made clear that additional relief measures will need to be enacted in the coming weeks and months to respond to the negative economic consequences of COVID-19. The NGFA will continue to monitor, inform and aim to influence these next legislative responses, particularly in the realm of increased infrastructure investments that put Americans back to work and make the U.S. more competitive.
The latest action by Congress was preceded by:
- Phase-One Coronavirus Response: On March 6, President Trump signed into law an $8 billion package to help various government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to respond to the coronavirus.
- Phase-Two Coronavirus Response: On March 18, President Trump signed into law a package estimated to cost around $100 billion that provided expanded unemployment benefits and paid sick leave.