S.E. Williams | Contributor
The nation seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief when Congress passed the third piece of bi-partisan legislation last week to provide economic aid to a suffering nation.
This most recent COVID-19 triggered legislation, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act or CARES Act, provides two trillion dollars in relief to citizens, businesses, states, hospitals, and the list goes on. Some of the key benefits include:
• Provides $1,200 to Americans making $75,000 or less; $150,000 in the case of joint returns; $112,500 for head of household; and $500 for each child, to be paid “as rapidly as possible.” Those who filed income tax returns in 2018 or 2019 will receive their monies more expeditiously. Citizens should probably not expect these payments for three weeks at the earliest.
• Expands eligibility for unemployment insurance and provides people with an additional $600 per week on top of the unemployment amount determined by each state. You can file for benefits if you are laid off, furloughed, or have your hours reduced. Benefits also apply to those who are self employed or are part of the gig economy.
• A $349 billion loan program for small businesses, including 501(c)(3) non-profits, and physician practices that can be forgiven if the businesses retain their employees.
• $500 billion for businesses, states, and municipalities, with no more than $46 billion to support passenger air carriers, air cargo carriers, and businesses important to maintaining national security. However, there continues to be controversy over how the remaining $454 billion may be used to support lending to eligible businesses, states, and municipalities. In addition, although the bill contains oversight provisions, the president has already made it abundantly clear he has no intention of abiding by them.
• Allocates $130 billion in relief to the medical and hospital industries to help secure for medical supplies, drug, and device shortages.
• Expands telehealth services in Medicare even for services unrelated to COVID-19.
• Expands the Defense Production Act by increasing the current limit of $50 million for two years allowing the government to secure any shortfall in resources without regard to the current spending limit.
• Includes supplemental appropriations to help the government respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the provisions of the CARES Act and the two stimulus bills passed before it—many in this nation believe there is more to be done because far too many Americans are still in need of “care” as evidenced by statements from California officials and representatives.
Governor Gavin Newsom stated, “The stimulus bill passed will provide critical support for California to fight COVID-19 and strengthen our hospitals and health care system.” At the same time, the governor cautioned, “State and local governments will need additional and flexible funding to ensure they can continue responding to this crisis and continue critical services.
California businesses and residents will also need additional federal support to weather this economic storm. California will work closely with our federal partners for more help to ensure that Californians can quickly recover from the economic, health, and humanitarian impacts from COVID-19.”
California Congressman Pete Aguilar (D-31st District) voted in favor of the legislation. When the bill was said, “[T]his bipartisan bill will help ensure that our region can rise to the challenges posed by coronavirus and come out the other side stronger. Aguilar who voted in favor of the legislation also noted however, “Congress still has work to do in the coming weeks.”
Congressman Mark Takano (D-41st District) who also supported the legislation said, “This $2 trillion relief bill is far from perfect, but it is an important action Congress has taken to provide direct relief to members of our community who are feeling the economic effects brought about by the response to this pandemic. There is still more work to be done to help every worker and every family in Riverside County and across the country.
And, California Congressman Raul Ruiz (D-36th District) who also supported the legislation stated, “There is still more work to be done to help every worker and every family in Riverside County and across the country.”
One concern stemming from the CARES Act is, although it provides direct payments to individuals and/or couples and their children, many low-income citizens may struggle to obtain a payment.
This especially applies to those who may not have filed a 2018 or 2019 return, including those who earn less than the standard deduction ($12,200 for single filers in 2019, $24,400 for joint filers).
Dependents over the age of 17 who may be young parents living with their own parent(s), as well as disabled children, are not eligible for the direct payments—those who care for them—their parent or guardian—will receive $500 instead.
Another problem is the legislation excludes those who do not have Social Security numbers. This excludes Dreamers as well as those who file with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers.
In addition, this one-time allocation beyond being income limited, is also far from enough to sustain Americans through the projected duration of this pandemic.
In addition, states and local governments who are on the ground doing the hard work of containing the epidemic and are restricted from running deficits or the risk of having their bonds downgraded, are all experiencing reduced revenues even as the battle against the virus is driving up their costs, They need additional fiscal support.
On Sunday during an interview on MSNBC, California Senator Kamala Harris gave her own assessment of what remains to be done. “We need to begin work on another [stimulus] bill,” she said. According to the Senator, a new stimulus bill should include a commitment to provide paid sick leave for the more than 50 million low-income Americans—two-thirds of which currently have no sick leave; a national moratorium on evictions; a national system to provide monthly payments similar to the one-time payment authorized in the CARES Act; a moratorium on credit card payments, finance charges and penalties; a stay on credit bureau reporting to prevent credit blemishes; and relief of student loans among other recommendations. In addition, members of the disability community are also in need and are calling for funding support for their community.
In a Tweet Harris wrote, “People are still hurting. Our work isn’t done.”