What the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill could mean for Pa. and N.J.
Lawmakers and aides were still scrambling to pin down exactly what was included against a backdrop of a spiraling national crisis that has killed hundreds and crippled the economy.
The Senate’s $2.2 trillion rescue package intended to combat the coronavirus pandemic includes direct payments to individuals and families, money for state governments and hospitals grappling with soaring caseloads, and aid to keep businesses afloat while most economic activity is frozen.
It was also a moving target late Wednesday, with the final text still in the works, some senators threatening to block the package, and many lawmakers and aides still scrambling to find out exactly what was in it — all against the backdrop of a spiraling national crisis that has killed hundreds and crippled the economy.
“This is really a monumental undertaking,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), who helped write a major section providing more than $400 billion in loans to businesses.
Even as the Senate hoped to vote Wednesday, the measure could still be subject to change there or in the House. Some Republicans were objecting to a proposed increase in unemployment benefits.
Here are some key provisions and an early look at how they may affect Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Direct payments to individuals
The bill would provide a one-time payment of $1,200 to every adult with income of up to $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples). After those thresholds, the payments would decrease, and go to zero for individuals making more than $99,000. Families would receive $500 per child.
So a family of four making less than $150,000 could receive $3,400.
The payments could go out as soon as early April and would be wired to people’s bank accounts, Toomey said. But for those who don’t have direct deposit information on file with the IRS, it could take up to four months to receive a check by mail, the New York Times reported.
Increased unemployment aid
Unemployment benefits would increase by $600 per week on top of the benefits each state already provides. “I don’t know if we’ve ever had this kind of an investment in unemployment insurance,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.).
The measure also includes an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits for those who exhaust their state benefits.
“The unemployment stuff is good,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.
The coronavirus’ impact on AFL-CIO members varies, Bloomingdale said. He estimated unemployment among hospitality workers was about 90%, but noted a high demand for grocery store workers, many of whom are unionized.
“The construction industry is starting to shut down,” he said. “That’ll be a huge number of unemployed” people.
Three Republican senators, however, were balking at the unemployment increase Wednesday afternoon, arguing that it might pay people more than their jobs did and encourage workers to remain unemployed. Their objections added a last-minute roadblock.
Funding for hospitals, states
There would be $150 billion for hospitals and other medical providers, and $150 billion for state and local governments.
“This legislation responds to the urgent needs of states like New Jersey, which has already spent billions of dollars battling the nation’s second-highest number of COVID-19 cases,” said a statement from Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), one of the top Democratic negotiators on the measure.
Toomey said Pennsylvania could see about $5 billion in aid.
The amount for states is significantly less than the $100 billion that New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, along with his counterparts in Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut, lobbied for to assist just those four states.
“Is it everything we want? It is not,” Murphy said Wednesday as he announced that 18 more people in the state had died from the virus, bringing the total to 62. “But I’m in the category of let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good."
New Jersey had 4,402 infections as of Wednesday, the second most in the country behind New York.
“We need this lifeline to stay strong through this emergency and help ensure that once it is over, we’ll be able to more rapidly and readily get our state back open entirely, and full-running again,” Murphy said.
A spokeswoman for the New Jersey Hospital Association said the group was still reviewing details of the package, “but in general, this assistance is desperately needed by health-care facilities on the front lines. And as much as we appreciate this funding, the toll this crisis is taking on our health-care system will need further attention from Congress in the days and weeks ahead.”
Other provisions would pour money into public schools and colleges, which have been forced to largely shift to online learning. Public transit agencies, including SEPTA, could also be eligible for support, Casey said.
Sweeping business aid
The bill would send vast amounts of support to businesses in the forms of loans and other aid. Menendez put the small business support at $377 billion.
Much of that would be in the form of loans that would effectively become grants if businesses use the money to maintain payroll or pay mortgages or rent, Toomey said. The small business program is for those that employ fewer than 500 people. “The idea is to encourage these companies to keep workers on the payroll,” Toomey said.
Another provision would offer tax credits for wages paid by larger businesses, effectively cutting their costs for keeping people employed.
Toomey helped write a $454 billion loan program for large employers. He said that money would have to be paid back.
“We’re hoping it’s a mechanism to keep businesses alive for a few weeks or months until our economy can resume,” Toomey said.
“If you can think of a business in Pennsylvania, it almost surely qualifies," he added later. "The criteria is extraordinarily broad, by design.”
“We advocated much of what was in the approved Senate package on behalf of our members over the past week," Rob Wonderling, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, said in a statement. "We think this is a good start.”
A separate $46 billion fund managed by the Treasury Department would go to targeted industries, such as airlines and hotels.
The combined $500 billion for business worried Democrats who feared it could amount to a “slush fund” controlled by the White House, but the final bill imposes added disclosure rules and oversight,, and temporary bans on stock buybacks and layoffs.
About $17 billion has been carved out for Boeing, the aviation giant that was beset by problems from a deadly engineering error long before the coronavirus struck, the Washington Post reported. Boeing has a plant in Ridley Township, Delaware County.
Aid for voting
With many states, including Pennsylvania, moving or working to move their presidential primaries, the bill provides $400 million in election funding. Many officials now anticipate that states will have to increasingly rely on vote-by-mail and other options as large gatherings are discouraged or banned.
“It’s very possible that COVID-19 will continue to disrupt American lives through November, and we need to prepare the country to vote if that’s the case," said Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.), who pushed for the election aid. “It’s on the federal government to safeguard our constitutional rights and make sure that, even while our country faces this pandemic, we still protect our democracy.”
Even in a $2 trillion bill, some things are left out.
Casey, for one, argued that it should have included student loan relief. And while draft summaries circulating Wednesday said there would be some protections from eviction and foreclosures involving properties with federally-backed loans, Casey said he hoped for more safeguards.
Staff writer Pranshu Verma contributed to this article