The House passed and the president signed Friday a $2 trillion aid package to help blunt economic impact from the coronavirus pandemic, with allocations for public health and state and local government response that drew praise but also warnings that the funds are just the tip of what will be needed.
The CARES Act, which passed the Senate 96-0 on Wednesday and the House by voice vote Friday, includes $500 billion for a corporate liquidity fund to help industries hit hard by the pandemic shutdown such as airlines and $377 billion for small businesses in what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called potentially “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.”
Chamber CEO Tom Donohue said his organization is now “focused on helping small businesses take the necessary steps to receive aid once lending facilities have been designated, and we are working to ensure that the Treasury and Federal Reserve act swiftly to create a robust lending facility to support loans to midsize and larger businesses with minimal regulatory red tape.”
The bill also includes nearly $340 million in support for state and local governments, and more than $153 billion for public health. Each state would receive at least $1.25 billion, with totals increasing for more populated states. The maximum unemployment benefit was also boosted by $600 per week for up to four months.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose states will receive $5 billion under the legislation, said that “the congressional action, in my opinion, simply failed to address the governmental need.” He tweeted today, “In projections we trust. For projections we plan. Accordingly we need 30,000 ventilators.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, leading another hard-hit state, called the bill “critical support” and lauded the “direct aid to state and local governments so that we can respond to this emergency and aid communities and families during this time.”
“States and local governments are on the front lines of fighting this pandemic — scaling up the capacity of our health system, supporting first responders, providing food aid, and supporting workers as they seek to make ends meet amid massive job losses. State and local governments will need additional and flexible funding to ensure they can continue responding to this crisis and continue critical services,” Newsom said. “California businesses and residents will also need additional federal support to weather this economic storm.”
And individual stimulus payments to taxpayers based on income levels — with a minimum $1,200 to individuals making up to $75,000 per year, but nothing for those earning over $99,000 — are expected to be mailed within the next three weeks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pushed back on branding the bill as a stimulus package. “It is emergency relief. Emergency relief. That’s what this is,” he said on the Senate floor.
Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), called the bill “another important step to ensuring that the nation’s public health departments have the resources they need to continue their work to address the coronavirus pandemic.”
“Local health departments appreciate the support shown by the federal government for their life-saving work on the front lines of this pandemic. Trained public health professionals in towns and cities across the nation are working 24/7 to find people who have been infected with COVID-19, then identify those who may have been exposed to these individuals, connect people who need it to medical treatment, and advise an anxious public about how they can keep themselves and their families safe,” she said. “They have done so for months, largely out of the spotlight. These funds are much needed to support this ongoing work that protects each and every one of us.”
The $4.3 billion allocated toward public health agencies’ prevention and response efforts includes support for laboratory testing, workforce training programs and combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria as a result of secondary infections related to COVID-19, $500 million for public health data surveillance and analytics infrastructure modernization, $300 million for the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund, and at least $250 million for the Hospital Preparedness Program, including the National Ebola and Special Pathogens Training and Education Center (NETEC), regional, State and local special pathogens treatment centers, and hospital preparedness cooperative agreements.
“The local-state-federal governmental public health partnership has been working for months on this response with no end in sight. Unfortunately, they are doing so with fewer people and an infrastructure weakened by years of budget cuts and flat funding,” Freeman said. “These emergency dollars will help with this crisis, but we need to do more to ensure that the governmental public health system is strong and ready for the next one.”
Freeman noted that investments to bolster local public health infrastructure and the workforce have been cut by nearly a quarter since 2008.
American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley applauded passage of the bill, and said the union looks forward “to working with Congress in the near-term to address unresolved issues facing federal workers, who continue to risk daily exposure to the coronavirus.”