As more Americans lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Senate approved a $2 trillion plan on Wednesday night designed to stave off the looming economic and health crisis. The U.S. House signed off on it today, and Trump has promised to sign it “immediately.”
While there has been a lot of focus on the $1,200 stimulus checks many people are getting, the flaws in this bill are glaring. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez excoriated Republicans on the House floor this morning, saying, “What did the Senate majority fight for? One of the largest corporate bailouts, with as few strings as possible, in American history. Shameful. The greed of that fight is wrong, for crumbs for our families!” Meanwhile, hospitals are begging for equipment, she said, mentioning that 13 people had died overnight in Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York.
The bill, which spurred a lobbying rush — albeit by phone and email in the age of social distancing — was passed after approximately zero public debate. While over 150 million American households will get small-ish checks, the 880-page legislation also provides $500 billion to corporations, a potential huge tax break for real estate tycoons, and even some fine print that could help the Trump family hotels. Truly something for everybody!
The $500 billion to rescue corporations, pushed by Republicans, includes approximately $58 billion for the airline industry. The bill also includes $367 billion in loans for small businesses, and tax credits for companies that keep their employees on payroll even if they’ve been forced to close or business has dropped off. It includes $150 billion to state and local governments, $100 billion for our struggling hospitals, $25 billion for food stamps (SNAP) and child nutrition programs, and $30 billion in emergency assistance for schools.
The Tax Foundation estimates that 93.6 percent of tax filers will get a stimulus check. People who make less than $75,000 a year are eligible for the full one-time payment of $1,200. Couples who file joint taxes and make less than $150,000 are eligible for $2,400. Households will receive an additional $500 for each child. For people who make over $75,000, payments will be reduced by $5 for every $100 of income that exceeds that limit. This means, if you make $85,000, you will get $700. If you make $99,000 a year or more, you won’t receive any money, nor will couples who file jointly and make over $198,000.
The catch is that the stimulus check is based on your 2018 income: If you didn’t qualify then, but have fallen on hardship since, you’re out of luck. Not to mention that $1,200 doesn’t even cover a month of rent for many people, particularly those in large cities. One in three Americans, according to a new survey, say they or an immediate family member has been laid off or lost their job as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and economists are worried about double-digit unemployment rates. A small, one-time payment is not going to make a dent in many of their bills or student loans.
“For those of us who freelance and tour, this is a pretty crappy plan,” tweeted writer Roxane Gay. “When your income disappears, it disappears no matter what you made in 2018. Also, in what world is one $1,200 payment going to address the severe financial distress most of us are in? But sure. Give the airlines $50 billion. Seems reasonable.”
There are also two important groups of Americans that won’t get checks: those who make little or no income at all (they don’t file taxes) and undocumented immigrants (you need a Social Security number to qualify). Additionally, the bill does not include any student debt relief, rent relief, or mortgage relief, nor anything about free coronavirus testing and treatment, nor universal emergency paid leave.
Unemployment claims went up by 1,000% to 3.3 million last week, and the bill does expand unemployment insurance to provide an extra $600 a week for up to four months on top of state benefits, including for gig workers — which is a month more than Republicans originally sought.
One of the most disappointing, but unsurprising, parts of the bill, is that Republicans have managed to smuggle in an anti-abortion provision. The bill gives the Small Business Administration “broad discretion” to exclude Planned Parenthood affiliates and other nonprofits serving low-income people, and deny them benefits under the small business-loan program, explains a spokesperson for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The bill also attaches an unnecessary Hyde Amendment provision (the Hyde Amendment bars the use of federal funds on abortion) to a state coronavirus-relief fund.
“It has become shamefully clear that not even a global pandemic will stop the Trump administration or Republican Congressional leaders from attacking access to reproductive care,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. “Our leaders should be working to support the nation’s full network of safety-net healthcare providers during these uncertain times. Instead, the Senate bill targets Planned Parenthood and expands the harmful and discriminatory Hyde Amendment, putting up even more barriers to care for women, people with low incomes, and communities of color.”
There are a staggering amount of needs that were unmet in this bill, despite the all-encompassing bailout for giant corporations. Advocates are hoping that Congress will address them in its next round of coronavirus-relief legislation, which is reportedly coming soon.
“We are disappointed that corporations get $500 billion, while immigrants get cut out of health provisions or economic relief,” Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. “We are disappointed that hospitals got bailouts, but hospital workers are left in the dark. In this bill, House Democrats need to fight for debt cancellation, a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and shut offs. We need to ensure that everyone in our country, regardless of immigration status, gets financial relief for the duration of this crisis.
Archila continued, “The next government intervention must focus on the vital resources that we all need to live — paid sick and family leave, free treatment for anyone impacted by COVID-19, and election protection mechanisms so we can have access to our elections.”
There are currently over 92,000 coronavirus cases in the U.S., the most in the world, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At least 1,380 deaths have been linked to COVID-19.
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