Cantwell Highlights Benefits for Washington State in COVID-19 Relief Package
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, as the Senate unveiled a nearly $2 trillion funding package to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) spoke on the Senate floor, highlighting key provisions of the legislation and calling on her Senate colleagues to pass the bill as quickly as possible. This evening, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed the Senate by a unanimous 96-0 vote. It now moves on to the House of Representatives.
The legislation contains a number of important provisions critical for Washington state’s medical system and health care providers, workers, small businesses, and Tribes:
The CARES Act includes $150 billion in funding to support the medical system nationwide, including $100 billion in funding for hospitals and medical facilities. It would provide billions to procure protective equipment for doctors and nurses, new testing supplies, and new ventilators for treating sick patients. It also includes $4.3 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which could be used to support state, local, and Tribal health agencies; buy more protective equipment; help with surveillance of COVID-19 hotspots; perform contact tracing to identify people who might be exposed; improve testing capacities; provide more workforce training; and meet other needs that might arise.
Here's what Senator Cantwell had to say: “Today, we are responding with more help for our state. We are giving them more money for hospitals, more money for the front line with protective gear, more money for testing, and more money to support them as they continue the effort to try to stop this disease.”
The legislation contains $260 billion to expand unemployment insurance. It provides an additional $600 a week through July 31, 2020, in addition to existing state benefits for anyone who loses work as a result of COVID-19. It will also provide an extra 13 weeks of unemployment benefits beyond when state benefits are available and includes workers not normally eligible for unemployment benefits, including the self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers, and individuals with limited work history.
In Washington state, joblessness claims rose to 14,154 for the week ending in March 14, an increase of more than 116 percent from the previous week. In King County, the number of claims increased from 1,837 to 5,834 over the same period of time – an increase of more than 215 percent.
Here’s what Senator Cantwell had to say: “We also know that the unemployment benefits in this package, which will be for four months, will be a boost to giving people who are unemployed, and the expansion of that definition, to cover those who are part of a gig economy that may not have been covered in the past, is important to give people the safety net to make it through this process.”
Direct cash assistance
Over 1.8 million Washingtonians who make less than $75,000 a year will also qualify for a one-time $1,200 rebate check from the government. An additional almost 970,000 married couples in Washington state making less than $150,000 combined would qualify for a one-time $2,400 check. Parents will also receive an additional $500 per child.
Here’s what Senator Cantwell had to say: “I also thank my colleagues for other provisions of this package that are helping in giving individual taxpayers relief, in the sense of a rebate check. Not only will individuals get a rebate check, but families will get a rebate check of $2,400 that should help those who have been hit hardest by this disease to help in these sustaining days, in which we are sheltering in place in the state of Washington.”
The package contains $377 billion to help small businesses and nonprofits pay their expenses and make payroll. Small businesses and nonprofits will be able to apply for federally-guaranteed loans of up to $10 million to cover expenses such as salaries; paid sick, medical, or family leave; insurance premiums; and payment for mortgages, rent, and/or utilities. Eight weeks of loans to cover these expenses would be forgiven if the business maintains its payroll. Nearly 609,000 Washington small businesses would be eligible to benefit from this relief.
The legislation also contains provisions cosponsored by Senator Cantwell to create a $10 billion emergency small business grants program, with businesses able to apply for up to $10,000, and $17 billion to cover all loan payments – including principal, interest, and fees – for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, including existing loans, for the next six months. More than 8,000 Washington small businesses with current SBA loans would benefit from loan payment relief.
Here’s what Senator Cantwell had to say: “Small businesses have been hit hard. Businesses that shut down are counting on us to create a program that small businesses can get both grants and loans. So the $360 billion in this program, I hope SBA will help dispatch with urgency to those businesses who have complied, and have done their best to keep their employees while also shutting down their business.”
The CARES Act also includes more than $10 billion for Tribal programs, including over $1 billion for the Indian Health Services, $453 million for essential Tribal governance programs funded through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and $69 million for the Bureau of Indian Education.
Senator Cantwell helped secure $300 million in new financial assistance for fishermen. The funding will be available to commercial, charter, and Tribal fishermen and fishery-related businesses. In an expansion of existing law, Senator Cantwell also secured a provision to ensure charter fishermen and shellfish farmers, including geoduck harvesters, can access the funding.
Oversight of funds
Throughout the negotiation process, Senator Cantwell and her Democratic colleagues made significant improvements to the oversight of funds in the package, including:
- Banning stock buybacks, for the term of the government assistance plus one year, for any company receiving a loan from the government;
- Eliminating a provision that would have allowed funds that go to corporations to be concealed for six months;
- Establishing real-time public reporting of Treasury transactions, including loan terms, investments, or other assistance to corporations;
- Creating a Special Inspector General position to provide oversight of corporate loans and a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to protect taxpayer dollars; and
- Prohibiting businesses controlled by the President, Vice President, members of Congress, or heads of Executive Departments from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs.
Here’s what Senator Cantwell had to say: “Our colleagues here on this side of the aisle made sure that there were better requirements for oversight, inspector generals' accounting of the resources, and to make sure we knew exactly where these dollars were being spent. I know Treasury will have its hands full, but because of Democrats, we will have more transparency in exactly how those dollars go out the door.”
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