President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act—a $2 Trillion Relief Package on March 27, 2020. In the early hours of March 26, 2020, the then bill passed the U.S. Senate unanimously with a 96-0 vote, which was arrived at after nearly round-the-clock negotiations for almost the entire week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is quoted as saying, “This is not even a stimulus package. It is emergency relief.” He likened these actions to a wartime response.
On March 27, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill by voice vote, which didn’t require the full House membership to reconvene. This allowed the membership to maintain social distancing, a key strategy recommended to avoid the virus transmission. Speaker Pelosi stated that the current bill was substantially changed from the Senate’s version to shift priorities to workers versus corporations, which is why she and others in her party could support its passage. A copy of the text of the law is available HERE. Major provisions include:
- One-time checks of up to $1,200 per person for individuals earning up to $75,000 (and $150,000 for couples) with a scaled amount phased out at $99,000 per person income level, with additional child allowances of $500 each.
- $250 billion in expanded unemployment insurance, including raising the maximum weekly benefit by $600.
- $377 billion in low-interest loans to affected small businesses, including $350 billion in loan forgiveness grants to small businesses and non-profits, $10 billion for Small Business Administration (SBA) emergency grants of up to $10,000; and $17 billion for the SBA to cover six months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans.
- $50 billion for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program to help small- and medium-sized manufacturers recover by finding value within the supply chain and expanding markets.
- $5 billion in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).
- $500 billion in loans to the hardest-hit sectors, including airlines and hotel companies, with airlines obtaining $25 billion in direct assistance and a suspension of the 7.5 percent excise tax. Cargo carriers will receive $4 billion in aid.
- $150 billion for hospitals, health centers, and medical professionals.
Even with this fiscal record-breaking aid package, Congressional lawmakers are already discussing the possibility of a “Phase Four” bill to remedy the substantial health, economic, and social impacts of this pandemic. Senator Schumer (D-NY) is quoted as saying, “the odds are high” that Congress will need to do more. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), would like to see a fourth bill address priorities including additional funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more direct aid to state and local governments, additional cash payments to citizens, and free health care treatment for those who test positive for the coronavirus. Pelosi is quoted as saying, “Our next bills will lean toward recovery, how we can create good-paying jobs as we go forward, perhaps building the infrastructure of America. All of these things are being done in a bipartisan way.”
Many affected industries are already actively lobbying for economic relief in a potential next bill. Among them are water utilities. The new law doesn’t contain any direct aid or support for water infrastructure or cash-strapped ratepayers. Regarding the third relief package, Adam Krantz, CEO for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, is quoted as saying, “It failed to offer support to one of the most fundamental services that everyday citizens need now more than ever—clean water.” Krantz anticipates a substantial drop (approximately 20 percent) in industrial demand, and moratoriums on service shutoffs for struggling ratepayers unable to pay their water bills. On the opposite side of the aisle, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) noted on March 26, 2020, that we need time to see the effects of the first three bills’ implementation, before we can decide on any next steps.