Third phase of COVID-19 relief package passes, health recommendations extended

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The month of March saw the passage of three federal bills meant to relieve economic stresses related to the COVID-19 outbreak. The novel coronavirus has prompted officials on national, state and even local levels to recommend the general public limit contact with one another at work, grocery stores, churches and other gathering places. The most recent relief bill was signed into law Friday and provides more than $350 million for small business loans and up to $1,200 rebates for individual taxpayers.

"It's a major bridge for people to get over this hump," U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said. "There is an economic situation caused by a public health situation that nobody had any control over, but governments shut down businesses, the economy kind of shut down on its own and this is to help people bridge over."

Senate Democrats had opposed the bill, saying the available business loans lacked accountability and that the bill did not provide enough resources for healthcare providers while potentially favoring large corporations. The U.S. House introduced a competing bill March 23. Both Grassley and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst criticized Senate Democrats, saying their colleagues were playing party politics with the COVID-19 issue.

The Senate was able to pass the bill March 25 on a 96-0 vote and sent the bill back to the House. Congressional records show the bill began as the Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act of 2019 by the House in January of that year. The Senate used the bill as a vehicle for the relief's third phase — substituting the text of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act earlier this month through an amendment. The House then began discussing the Senate amendment shortly after 9 a.m. Friday, agreeing to it that afternoon and sending the bill to the president's desk where it was signed into law that same day.

Grassley said the funding for the three-phase relief package will likely come from collected taxes. He said the federal government could also borrow money if need be.

"The whole idea is, if we get the economy going, then you get revenue coming into the Federal Treasury," Grassley said. "We had historically high revenue coming into the Federal Treasury just before this shutdown."

The relief is also meant to bolster unemployment compensation for the next several months, according to Grassley.

"If this thing isn't good enough by then, we're going to be back at it again I presume — we'll have to be back at it again," Grassley said. "You can't have the American economy shut down. We could have social unrest."

The president announced Sunday the White House is extending its recommendations for curtailing the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, avoidance of gathering numbering more than 10 people and limited travel. The original recommendations were released earlier this month and were set to expire this week. President Trump said the guidelines will now end April 30, and the president said he expects the public will be well on its way to recovery by June.

"I want every citizen in our country to take heart and confidence in the fact that we have the best medical minds in the world tackling this disease," Trump said. "We have the best science, the best researchers and the best talent anywhere working night and day to protect your family and loved ones and to overcome this pandemic."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke following the president's remarks Sunday in the Rose Garden. Fauci was supportive of the president's recent decision.

"We feel that the mitigation that we’re doing right now is having an effect," Fauci. "It's very difficult to quantitate it because you have two dynamic things going on at the same time: You have the virus going up, and you have the mitigation trying to push it down. But the decision to prolong — not prolong, but to extend this mitigation process until the end of April, I think, was a wise and prudent decision."

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