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March 19, 2020 4:00 PM, EDT

Congress Prepares $1 Trillion Emergency Aid Package

Congresswoman Maxine WatersRep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif) at a recent hearing in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

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Congressional leaders announced efforts to draft an economic stimulus package of up to $1 trillion meant to assist portions of the transportation sector, the supply chain and consumers anticipating financial turmoil as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The likelihood of advancing an expansive stimulus measure appears to be garnering cooperation, with its floor consideration in both chambers expected before the end of the month.

Helping to craft the measure is House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who has proposed myriad provisions that mostly target traditional middle-class households and health care recovery programs.

The congresswoman’s plan includes providing $2,000 per month to most individuals, temporarily suspending negative consumer credit reporting, and prohibiting debt collection, repossession and garnishment of wages. She also is proposing providing $300 million for service coordinators assisting the elderly population, $1 billion for the emergency production of medical supplies and $5 billion to assist the homeless.

“Low income communities were already struggling before this crisis began and will likely be hit particularly hard by the coming recession. This is an urgent public health crisis that has quickly harmed our entire economy, and it demands swift and bold action,” Waters indicated March 18. “Media reports have indicated that the Trump administration plans to request upwards of $850 billion in aid for certain impacted industries. If true, it is apparent that this administration is missing the point: Families must come first.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) emphasized the chamber would remain in session to negotiate the economic stimulus. His leadership team indicated it is focusing on a fast-moving response of about $1 trillion in aid that would be designed to assist the service industries, public transit systems, the tourism sector and a significant portion of the consumer public.

The airline industry potentially could receive $50 billion in assistance or loans, lawmakers have suggested.

“I will not adjourn the Senate until we have passed a far bolder package that must include significant relief for small businesses across our nation,” McConnell said March 18. “This is not a challenge anyone wanted for our nation. But it is a challenge we will overcome. Someday, hopefully soon, our nation will have this virus on its heels. Main Street small businesses will be thriving again. Families will be flying around the country again, to reunite and catch up.”

“As we negotiate the next coronavirus bill, we must continue to put families first by providing immediate assistance to the millions of people who are out of work because of this virus today,” added Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member on the funding committee. “We must also increase our efforts to support medical care providers as they brace for this pandemic. And we must support our small businesses, cities and towns who do not have the resources to weather this storm.”

Since the start of the week of March 16, White House officials called for a stimulus package to rescue hard-hit industries and restore consumer confidence amid a rapidly eroding economy.

Financial markets have been volatile amid likelihood of a recession even as emergency efforts unfold to prop up the economy that is grinding to a standstill in service and manufacturing industries.

“We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately. And what we’ve heard from hardworking Americans, many companies have now shut down — whether it’s bars or restaurants,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said. “Americans need cash now, and the president wants to get cash now. And I mean now, in the next two weeks.”

The Trump administration also asked Congress for a fiscal 2020 funding boost of nearly $46 billion for federal agencies responding to the pandemic. This would include $150,000 for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s safety and operations account.

Mario Diaz-Balart

Diaz-Balart by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

Complicating the legislative process is the announcement that two members of the House recently tested positive for the coronavirus. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ben McAdams (D-Utah) self-quarantined.

“It’s important that everyone take this seriously and follow [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines in order to avoid getting sick [and] mitigate the spread of this virus,” Diaz-Balart wrote on social media March 18.

This month, Trump has signed two emergency relief packages related to the coronavirus. On March 18, he enacted into law a bill that provides 12 weeks of paid sick leave, free diagnostic testing and food aid for families affected by COVID-19, the disease resulting from the virus. The measure had gained rare overwhelming bipartisan support in the Democratic-led House and GOP-led Senate.

On March 6, Trump signed into law an $8.3 billion emergency supplemental package designed to promote health initiatives tackling the spread of the coronavirus.

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