As states, businesses and workers struggle with the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Senate is reviewing a historic $2 trillion economic relief bill.
Both of West Virginia’s senators touted the provisions Wednesday. The House of Representatives would still need to agree to it, possibly on Friday.
“Thank goodness we got a bill. We got a good piece of legislation,” Sen. Joe Manchin said during a midday conference call with reporters.
The bill of more than 600 pages was in draft form Wednesday, and progress was slowed when some senators raised issues about unemployment benefits.
But the Senate approved the bill 96-0 late Wednesday.
President Trump has said he will sign it.
Here’s what West Virginians can expect from the main aspects of relief:
Cash payments to individuals
The bill provides cash payments of up to $1,200 for individuals, or $2,400 for married couples, and $500 per child. So that could be $3,400 for a family of four.
The amount is reduced if an individual makes more than $75,000 or a couple makes more than $150,000.
The hope is to get that money to people within two or three weeks. “We know people are going to be anxious,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
For people who are concerned about meeting expenses like rent or mortgage, this provides a way to say “be patient until the government gives me the money that I can pay you,” Manchin said.
People who have filed their income tax electronically or who receive Social Security payments through direct deposit would receive the payments that way, Capito said during a conference call with reporters.
People on Social Security who don’t file income taxes, as well as those who don’t have enough income to file income taxes, are still eligible for the payments. Those may be issued in the form of checks.
In West Virginia, the average rebate for households is $1,830, according to an analysis from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
Unemployment benefits ‘on steroids’
The bill also increases the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 per week for up to four months.
The average claim in West Virginia is a little more than $400 right now. So that would boost people to weekly checks of about $1,000.
Normally, unemployment insurance lasts for 26 weeks. This is 39 weeks.
“It’s really, basically unemployment on steroids,” Manchin said Wednesday morning on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) March 25, 2020
That will have a big effect in West Virginia. Yesterday, Gov. Jim Justice said 28,000 West Virginians applied for unemployment benefits in one week alone.
The federal package allows workers to be furloughed by employers — continuing their relationship with the business — while still receiving benefits.
“They don’t have to be laid off to receive the money They can be furloughed,” Manchin said.
He was pleased that the unemployment changes will kick in right away.
“That’s why the unemployment benefits package on steroids package helps people immediately. We’ve taken away the waiting time,” Manchin said.
Small business relief
This enhances loan capacity for businesses of fewer than 500 people through the Small Business Administration.
Small businesses can take out loans of up to $10 million — and later seek forgiveness — for wages and other expenses such as rent or utility costs.
They can do this even if they’ve had to shut down because of orders related to the coronavirus.
“You can keep people on your payroll even though maybe you don’t have business because you’ve been closed down,” Capito said.
The total small business relief is $350 billion.
There’s no particular way to describe an amount for West Virginia because it would depend on which individual businesses apply.
“There’s a lot of things going to help businesses because that’s the quickest way for us to get to Main Street,” Manchin said.
Relief for bigger businesses
Companies with more than 500 employees can go to Treasury to get loan to stabilize.
These loans are not considered forgivable, so they’re not exactly bailouts. But the loans are meant to provide relief from large-scale layoffs.
Capito said, “When people get back up and running, people are able to pay those loans back.”
That’s a $400 billion portion of the relief package.
Help for state and local governments
$150 billion is meant for state and local governments to recoup their cost of responding to the emergency.
West Virginia leaders believe this could amount to about $1.25 billion for the state.
The money is meant to for the direct cost of responding to the pandemic, but would — as a practical matter — help states meet the cost of continued operation in what is also an economic crisis.
Gov. Jim Justice, when asked in recent days about the cost to the state, has made reference to the likelihood of federal relief.
The package targets $100 billion to the healthcare system, which is being disrupted and facing steep overtime costs.
There’s $16 billion for the national stockpile including masks, respirators and swabs. And $45 billion for FEMA disaster relief fund
There’s also $30 billion in emergency education funding and $25 billion in emergency transit funding. Airports, including those in West Virginia, would be eligible for relief.
The entire package provides a way to keep businesses and citizens going until the country is healthy, Manchin said.
“People got laid off. Small businesses had to close because we ordered them to close,” he said. “Our economy has been strong. It’ll be strong again.”
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) March 26, 2020