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Wednesday, April 8 Coronavirus in Connecticut

Coronavirus stimulus will include $1,200 checks for most Americans

WASHINGTON — Senate leaders and the White House have reached a deal on a sprawling $2 trillion economic stimulus package to respond to the coronavirus epidemic enveloping Connecticut and the nation.

After five days of furious negotiating, Senate leaders announced their agreement and started drafting final language. A vote in the Senate is expected in the next 24 hours, with the House quickly to follow.

Senators said the bipartisan bill provide expanded unemployment benefits to Americans out of work, $375 billion in loans and grants for small businesses and over $150 billion in support for hospitals and health care facilities.

“This relief package recognizes the economic emergency will continue if there’s a health crisis,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., tweeted Wednesday morning.

To provide direct assistance to cash-strapped Americans, the government will send all adults “four-figure checks to help with their bills,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday, describing the package.

The checks will be $1,200 for all American adults who make less than $75,000, plus $500 per child. Higher income levels will receive reduced checks; Americans who make more than $99,000 will not get cash assistance. Retirees will also qualify for the money, which will be sent to Americans via direct deposit or mailed check in early April.

Moreover, the bill expands unemployment assistance for people who lose their jobs as businesses close during the health crisis. The bill gives Americans four more months of unemployment assistance than usual and $600 on top of 100 percent wage replacement, according to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, who called it a “big boon” in an interview on Sirius XM Wednesday morning.

The bill will also create a $150 billion relief fund for state and local governments, as requested by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, Cuomo and the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania previously requested $100 billion for their states so they could avoid laying off government workers and cutting funding for education during the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill includes aid for industries hit hard by coronavirus, like the airlines, which have seen thousands of cancellations. Companies receiving financial support from the bill would be blocked from using the funds for stock buybacks, a provision which has seen bipartisan support in the past few days.

The deal follows days of tense negotiations and two procedural votes in which Senate Democrats knocked down earlier Republican proposals for coronavirus relief. McConnell on Wednesday morning knocked Democrats for forcing “three days of delay in the face of this worsening crisis.”

But on Wednesday afternoon, Senate passage was slowed by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Rick Scott of Florida, who said a “drafting error” in the bill incentivized businesses to lay people off and opposed a speedy vote.

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President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke to the senators Wednesday afternoon.

“I don’t think it will create incentives,” said Mnuchin. “Our expectation is this bill passes tonight.”

Mnuchin and other administration leaders held discussions for days with McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. over the package. They were often seen going back and forth between the offices of Schumer and McConnell on Capitol Hill.

Trump said Wednesday the legislation is “by far and away” the biggest package ever passed by Congress and praised the measures to help workers and businesses.

“I encourage the House to pass this vital legislation and send it to my desk immediately,” he said.

On Wednesday, Schumer called the compromise bill “far from perfect.”

“This is not a moment of celebration, but rather one of necessity,” he said.

The legislation does not appear to include an extension of paid sick days and medical leave to all workers — something that Schumer and other Senate Democrats included as a key pillar of their stimulus proposal. Led by DeLauro, the Democrats wanted to institute a permanent paid leave program through the coronavirus package, one of several long-term reforms stretching beyond the coronavirus epidemic that they sought.

House Democrats in their own stimulus proposal wanted to require airlines to cut their carbon emissions in half if they were going to receive government aid. They also wanted to create a program to create sustainable fuel for airplanes and have the government buy old airplanes off the market.

Democrats wanted to include emergency funding for the U.S. Postal Service, which has seen a critical fall-off in mail volume, and wipe out its $11 billion in debt.

They pressed for more tax credits for families and an extension of paid sick leave to some workers like health care providers and first responders who were left out of the second coronavirus bill passed by Congress and signed into law.

Nevertheless, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2, called the negotiated Senate bill “much improved” from where it was days ago.

“As soon as this revised agreement is drafted up for a vote in the Senate and House, both parties should cooperate to speed passage without any delay,” Courtney said Wednesday.

After the Senate vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., hopes to pass the legislation using mechanisms that would avert the need for House members to return to Washington for a vote, amid health concerns about traveling.

emilie.munson@hearstdc.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson

Emilie Munson|Capitol Reporter

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