Originally published in the Los Angeles Daily News
By Dianne Feinstein
Last week I came home from Washington to a city and state in lockdown. Just about everyone was at home, leaving only for the grocery store or a quick walk. Millions of Californians are out of work, unsure if they’ll be able to find a job when this crisis ends.
But in this time of uncertainty, I can say this: If we follow the guidelines set forth by health professionals, we can beat this. In the meantime, Congress has taken steps to help Americans pay their bills, save their small businesses and ensure jobs are ready and waiting when the time comes.
The biggest step came last week, with the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. With a price tag around $2 trillion, it’s the single-largest economic relief bill ever. It includes a wide range of help for families, businesses, hospitals, schools and other key parts of the economy.
First, the bill sends money directly to American families. With record numbers laid off or furloughed, many families are already living off their savings – if they have any. So Congress included one-time payments of $1,200 for most adults and $500 for most children to help make ends meet.
These payments will also serve to boost the economy. Putting extra dollars in pockets around the country is a good way to quickly inject money into a stagnant economy and help small businesses.
Second, the bill expands on existing unemployment benefits. Most notably it includes a provision that directs an additional $600 a week to unemployed workers to help cover the full income of an average worker.
The bill also encourages states to eliminate waiting periods that delay benefits, and it adds an extra 13 weeks of federally-funded unemployment insurance to help workers after state benefits run out.
Importantly to California, the bill provides benefits to part-time, self-employed and gig economy workers, groups that make up a big part of California’s economy but haven’t been eligible for unemployment benefits in the past.
Third, the bill includes billions of dollars to form a Marshall Plan for our health care system.
Much as America helped rebuild post-WWII Europe, this huge influx of money is intended to bolster our hospitals, clinics and other health care providers – the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus. This is crucial because we can’t fix the economy until we control the virus.
The bill includes $150 billion to keep hospitals open and supplied. This includes funds to compensate for the care of coronavirus patients, provide essential personal protective equipment and help develop a vaccine and therapeutic treatments.
Fourth, Congress had to step in to help backstop small businesses and key employers around the country.
California has around 4 million small businesses that employ more than 7 million people. They’re the cornerstone of local economies but often don’t have cash reserves to weather a crisis. Congress set aside $350 billion in loans and loan guarantees for small businesses, and those loans will be forgiven for businesses that keep employees on payroll during the emergency.
The bill also includes a $500 billion loan and investment fund for hard-hit sectors of the economy. These industries, such as airlines, provide vital services and employ millions of Americans, but they’re at risk of going under. These loans are meant to keep these industries viable so that when Americans can return to work, their jobs will still be there.
We were able to make sure all these loans are publicly disclosed and the whole program will be overseen by an inspector general, a congressional oversight commission and a Pandemic Response Accountability board. Stock buybacks and dividend payments won’t be allowed – this isn’t just a slush fund for big business.
And fifth, a wide range of programs that are vital to American life will get help.
Billions of dollars will go to help schools, colleges and universities teach students remotely; to public transportation systems like BART that face huge losses of fare revenue; to homeless assistance programs to help get people off the streets where they’re particularly susceptible to coronavirus; and to critical programs like school lunches to ensure millions of children don’t go hungry while schools are closed.
The CARES Act is a big bill, and importantly, it was a bipartisan effort. It even passed the Senate unanimously.
This economic relief bill won’t end this crisis, and it won’t be the last action Congress needs to take. But this is necessary relief to help Americans get through this emergency, and I’m proud that Congress stepped up to this urgent task.
My offices in Washington and California are ready to help workers and employers receive all the benefits they’re entitled to under the CARES Act. Details can be found at feinstein.senate.gov/coronavirus, and my casework team is ready to help.
Together, we can beat this disease, get Americans back to work and bring friends and families together again.
Dianne Feinstein represents California in the U.S. Senate.