On the day that COVID-19 deaths pushed past 1,000 in the country, and state and federal unemployment claims blew through previous records, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and U.S. Rep. Billy Long laid out details of the economic stimulus.
The Senate passed the measure late Wednesday night, and the House is expected to take it up today. Blunt supported the plan, and Long said he also supports it.
Blunt said Thursday there are four principal components of the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package.
Most important, he said, will be direct payments to individuals and families. That includes one-time direct payments of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year and $2,400 for a married couple making up to $150,000. That would include most families in Joplin, where the median household income was $43,000 in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Blunt noted that, with $500 per child added, that's $3,400 for a typical family of four.
"Those direct payments will go out to people who have filled out a tax return hopefully about the 10th of April," he said during a telephone interview.
The stimulus also includes an extra $600 a week on top of the unemployment aid that states provide. Missouri provides a maximum of $320 per week, but less for lower incomes, meaning Missourians could receive $920 a week. The federal supplement would last for 13 weeks.
The new legislation also would extend unemployment benefits for the first time to gig workers and others who are not on company payrolls.
In an email, Long also noted that a poll taken last year found over 60% of Americans could not come up with $400 for an unexpected expense such as a car repair, and that many of these are the same people now temporarily out of work.
A second part of the stimulus, Blunt said, will be small-business relief, focused on keeping employees on the payroll. The stimulus includes $350 billion that could be lent to businesses that keep their workforces.
"Most of the loan will be forgiven if they use them for things like keeping employees on the payroll," Blunt said.
If the employer maintains the payroll, then that portion of the loans used for covered payroll costs, interest on mortgage obligations, rent and utilities would be wiped away. This would be retroactive to Feb. 15 to help bring back workers who may have already been laid off.
Blunt said there would be additional money for state and local governments for virus-related expenses, but not to offset losses in revenue.
More details about the loan-forgiveness program are expected to be released soon.
Long also noted the plan has a number of provisions for farmers.
The U.S. Small Business Administration currently is offering low-interest economic injury disaster loans to provide working capital to small businesses and private nonprofits suffering economic injury as a result of the pandemic. Businesses can qualify for loans from just a few hundred dollars up to $2 million. The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses, 2.75% for nonprofit organizations, up to a maximum of 30 years.
The first payment will be deferred nearly a year, and there is no requirement to take the economic injury disaster loan if they apply.
"They don't have to know how much they might want when they apply. Those funds can be used to pay payroll, accounts payable, to pay for their building or their lease," said Garth MacDonald, SBA public information officer.
"We can make decisions a bank might be a little more reticent to make," he said of the SBA.
He encouraged businesses that need help to get the economic injury disaster loan process going, and if they are later eligible for the forgivable loan, they wouldn't have to take the SBA money or could repay it early without a penalty.
Other stimulus help
Blunt said the third key piece of the stimulus is $500 billion in guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including airlines.
The fourth part, Blunt said, is at least $100 billion for hospitals and health care providers in an "effort to get our health care system ready for what they need to deal with," noting that hospitals and doctors have put off other streams of revenue to cope with the pandemic. The money can be used for reimbursement for costs from the pandemic, as well as money to cover lost revenues.
Long praised hospitals for their response to the pandemic, but he noted they are facing a financial crunch, burning through supplies and buying extra equipment while facing challenges with their workforce exposed to the virus.
"The last thing we need is for hospitals to not have the funds they need to continue operations," Long said via email. The funding also expands telehealth services so hospitals can treat patients in the current environment.
"This is the biggest spending measure Congress has ever passed," Blunt said.
The bill also:
• Includes an employee retention tax credit that's estimated to provide $50 billion to companies that retain employees on payroll and covers 50% of workers' paycheck up to $10,000. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax.
• Allows the U.S. secretary of education to defer student loan payments and enables students who had to drop out of school because of the pandemic to keep their Pell Grants. It also gives colleges and universities the flexibility to continue work-study payments if students cannot work because of the virus.
Blunt said the stimulus has a twofold purpose: "Beat the virus. ... The other is to keep the economy in as stable a position as we can."
Asked about the implications for the annual deficit and the national debt, Long called it "a no-fault crisis and it requires a no-holds-barred approach to rescue our people, companies, states, and municipalities," He contrasted the pandemic with previous financial crises triggered by bad business practices.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.