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The $2.2 trillion economic rescue plan advanced by Congress will target aspects of the supply chain and commercial transportation networks that are struggling after the coronavirus pandemic crippled much of the country’s economy.
Days of negotiations between congressional leaders and senior members of President Donald Trump’s administration ensured the bill’s passage in the Senate by a vote of 96-0 on March 25.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised the bill’s passage in the Senate, noting small businesses and working-class families would receive financial relief. Her chamber passed the bill March 27 and Trump signed it later that day.
“Our nation faces the worst pandemic in over 50 years,” the speaker said. “Urgent action continues to be needed to address this threat to the lives and livelihood of the American people.”
Trump said he would promptly sign the measure into law when it arrives at his desk, making it one of the largest emergency funding packages to clear Congress. The president expressed hope for an overall return to normalcy by Easter.
Senators from both parties credited bipartisan negotiations for facilitating passage of the legislation, titled the CARES Act.
“In the coming days and weeks, our nation is going to meet new heroes,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said March 25. “Many may be police, firefighters, and [emergency medical technicians] once again. Many others will be truck drivers, grocery store clerks and pharmacists who literally keep our supply chains running. … All the Senate can do is give them the resources to do it.”
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the funding committee, added, “I have said from the beginning that our response to this crisis will come in phases as we address the evolving nature of the coronavirus pandemic. Today, our response is providing direct assistance to the American people, injecting new resources where they are needed most and moving our country a step closer to emerging from this crisis stronger than we were before.”
Specific to transportation, the measure would direct $25 billion for transit systems, as well as $10 billion for airports, and cargo air carriers would receive $4 billion to ensure salaries and benefits. Amtrak would receive $1 billion.
In other accounts, governors around the country would be able to access emergency aid for certain emergency operations, the Department of Labor would receive $360 million, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency would receive $45 million. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s safety operations and programs would receive $150,000.
Another aspect of the bill would authorize the Treasury Secretary to issue loans to eligible businesses, states and municipalities from a $500 billion account. Also, the package would establish a $367 billion program designed to support small-business operations. It would issue direct payments for a considerable part of the population, as well as enhance unemployment benefits.
Prior to the bill’s passage in the Senate, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, had offered input for the rescue package.
“As we adjust to a new reality, for now, of staying close to home, ridership on our public transit systems, commuter rail, Amtrak and airlines has plummeted — nearly zeroing out revenue streams,” DeFazio explained. “But here’s the thing: Transportation will always be critical to our nation — especially right now.”
Freight stakeholders were quick to applaud the action from Congress. American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear highlighted the contributions from truckers during the ongoing crisis.
“At its core, trucking is an industry of small business. More than 90% of motor carriers in this country have fewer than six trucks, and it is critically important for the health of our nation’s supply chain that small and midsize carriers have access to liquidity so they can keep their drivers paid, trucks running, stores restocked and hospitals supplied,” Spear noted.
“The types of emergency funding programs in the CARES Act could make the difference between keeping a business up and running over the coming weeks or being forced to reduce salaries, lay off employees or shutter businesses entirely,” added Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “No family and no business should go bankrupt because of the financial hardships caused by the coronavirus.”
Trump already has signed two emergency relief packages this month. The measures provided paid sick leave, free diagnostic testing and food aid for families affected by COVID-19. It also expanded health initiatives addressing the spread of the coronavirus. COVID-19 is the disease resulting from the virus.
To mitigate the spread of the virus, several states have issued strict restrictions on public activities and business operations.
The coronavirus is said to target primarily individuals with existing health conditions, and parts of the elderly population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 68,000 cases and 994 deaths have been reported in the United States as of March 26.
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