The coronavirus has shut down businesses and confined us to our homes. What is the government doing to save us from economic collapse? Donald Trump signed a $100 billion emergency aid package Wednesday. The bill passed in the House on Friday and bumped around the Senate until yesterday. The coronavirus might take longer to incubate, but damn, let's stop dilly dallying. I've worn the same sweat shirt for five days.
The bill Trump signed will expand paid sick leave and unemployment insurance. The latter is especially critical. Unemployment claims in Oregon, for instance, rose from 800 on Sunday to 18,500 on Tuesday. National levels are even more horrifying at around 630,000 claims in just 15 days. Let's break down the emergency aid package: What it does and doesn't do.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act devotes $400 million to local food banks to provide meals for low-income Americans during the emergency. It'll also provide $500 million in supplemental funds to the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC). Unfortunately, single mothers are among the first to feel the body blows of closures to restaurants and bars and the reduction of retail shifts.
There's $250 million that will help feed low-income seniors, especially those who were already shut-in before the shutdowns. The emergency paid leave provisions are crucial but more in the normal course of events, less so now. Fewer people every day have jobs at all, whether they're sick or not. Besides, you are contagious even when asymptomatic, which is one of the reasons for the extreme social distancing measures. But yes, people who are obviously sick shouldn't work. The sick leave does include people who have to look after their kids while schools are shut down, which is great.
The bill also provides for free coronavirus testing. Now we just need some tests. Otherwise, the next bill should just automatically make everyone an NBA player.
There is bipartisan agreement, however, that the emergency aid package is woefully lacking, given the longterm impact of the coronavirus outbreak. So:
What else have we got?
The Republican-controlled Senate is “close to a deal" on a $1 trillion economic stimulus package. Senate Republicans will come up with their own plan and negotiate with Chuck Schumer, who'll let Nancy Pelosi know how badly he's getting spanked. He's not crazy about this plan.
SCHUMER: The process that Leader McConnell has outlined is too cumbersome, too partisan and will take far too long given the urgency and need for cooperation.
Republicans are mostly evil, but not all their ideas are terrible. Florida's pride and joy, Marco Rubio, has proposed $300 billion in relief for small businesses, along with funding for his own adult education classes. There's also the “mo' money" plan where Americans would receive direct payments of cash to tide them over while under house arrest. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that the White House wants to send most Americans $1,000 in three weeks and an additional $500 for every child. This would cost about $500 billion.
The leading Republican plan would offer $1,200 to most taxpayers but only $600 to poor families, who pay less in taxes. It is kind of Republicans to spare poor Americans the shock to the hearts from opening a really big check. The benefit would phase out for individuals with an annual income greater than $75,000. The latter might make sense at any other time, but very soon people in that income bracket will start losing their jobs if they haven't already. Over at the House of Representatives, Democrats suggest larger amounts to keep the economy afloat. Rep. Maxine Waters proposes $2,000 monthly for adults and $1,000 until the crisis is over. She's a baller, but Democratic Senators Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, and Sherrod Brown also want to go big with $2,000 for every adult and child. Single people earning less than $90,000 and couples making less than $180,000 would all benefit.
What's Liz Warren Got?
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is a known plan machine. She's proposed increasing Social Security and disability payments by $200 for the next year. She renewed her call to erase all student loan debt, which she'd advocated for during her much-missed campaign. Eliminating that fixed cost and financial burden would have a very real impact. It's light years beyond Trump's student loan interest waiver, which might reduce the amount of the loan your grandchildren will have to pay off, but it won't help you now because you're still on the hook for your regular monthly payment.
Warren wants Trump to issue a Stafford Act declaration for the coronavirus so that the health care system has the flexibility to cope with rising case loads. Her full plan is here. Go read it before your next Neftlix binge.
What's Kamala Harris Got?
Long before her equally missed presidential campaign, Sen. Kamala Harris had proposed the LIFT Act, which would give up to "$6,000 a year to middle-class families." (No, Mitt Romney's idea wasn't more generous.)
McConnell plans to keep the Senate in session until a stimulus package is passed. Let's hope it doesn't suck. We'll keep you posted as more ideas come down the pipe.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).