Racing against twin health and economic crises, the U.S. Senate passed an unprecedented $2 trillion coronavirus measure late Wednesday that would inject billions into the nation’s medical system, dramatically expand unemployment benefits and temporarily cover the entire payroll for many small businesses across the country.
In a rare show of unity, the chamber voted 96-0 to send the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or “CARES,” Act to the House, which is expected to pass the legislation Friday morning. It won support from the most conservative of lawmakers, such as Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and the most progressive, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Four senators missed the vote because they have either contracted the coronavirus, or are self-quarantining out of concern that they were exposed to it.
If signed by the president, the measure will be the largest one-time spending bill in U.S. history.
Read the full coronavirus bill here. Or continue below for highlights of what’s in it for individuals and companies.
HELP FOR PEOPLE
The bill aims to give some individuals cash to help them cover basic necessities. It also increases unemployment benefits for those who have been laid off.
A check for $1,200
- The bill would cut a check to most Americans, for $1,200 per person or $2,400 per married couple, plus $500 for each child.
- That money begins to phase out to those at a $75,000-income level for individuals and would not go to single persons (without children) making more than $100,000 or families making more than $150,000.
- These are called “recovery rebates” in the bill.
- Benefits would increase by $600 a week over the current level in each state. That is intended to raise benefits so they match the average weekly income in the U.S., and for many Americans cover their full pay.
- Unemployment checks will continue for a longer period of time: up to 39 weeks from the previous max of 26 weeks.
- Far more categories of people will be eligible, including freelance and contract workers.
- Benefits will begin rolling out sooner than usual, with the federal government paying for the usual one-week waiting period between applying for benefits and when they kick in.
Giving to charities
The bill includes a $300 tax deduction for any American who donates at least that amount to charity.
Other: Student loans, evictions, foreclosures
- All federal student loan payments will be suspended through Sept. 30.
- The bill would block foreclosures on federally-backed mortgages for at least 60 days, if the homeowner stipulates that their finances have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
- The bill would also temporarily ban eviction filings at properties connected to the federal government.
HELP FOR BUSINESSES
Small businesses and the self-employed
- In an attempt to avoid mass unemployment, the bill includes funding that would help small businesses cover payroll for eight weeks. This is called the “Paycheck Protection Program.”
- Small businesses could receive up to $10 million each to cover payroll, rent and utilities. The bill aims to cover eight weeks of those costs.
- Each business could receive up to 250 percent of its average monthly payroll.
- This would apply to businesses with fewer than 500 workers, including nonprofits and those who are self-employed.
- The money would initially be a loan, but would be forgiven and become a grant, if the company uses the loan solely for payroll, rent or utility costs.
- This program is retroactive to Feb. 15 and is available until June 30.
- This assistance is part of $377 billion set aside for all kinds of small business help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Larger employers: $454 billion in loans, with requirements
This is the largest single piece of the bill.
- $454 billion in loans or loan guarantees. This may be doled out to companies by the Secretary of the Treasury.
- Low interest. The interest rate on these loans must be no more than 2 percent. No payments are due for at least six months.
- Must keep workers. Those businesses must use the money to keep 90 percent of their workforce on payroll through September. And they must intend to get back to the number of workers they had in February 2020 by the end of May.
- Executive pay is frozen. Those who made more than $425,000 in 2019 at these companies cannot get a raise in salary or any other compensation benefit for a year. Any severance package is limited to no more than twice what they made (total compensation) in 2019.
- Top executive pay may be cut. At these companies, those who made more than $3 million a year are further limited to no more than $3 million, plus half of whatever amount they earned over $3 million. Thus, at these companies, someone who made $5 million in total compensation last year would see that amount reduced to $4 million.
- These companies cannot engage in paying dividends to stockholders or buying back company stock while the loan is outstanding.
- In addition, the companies cannot outsource or move jobs overseas for two years.
- For the term of the loan, they cannot break any union agreements and must stay neutral in an attempt by a union to organize.
- Passenger airlines are eligible for up to $25 billion in grants. This money would not need to be repaid directly, but airlines may offer the government some stock to compensate taxpayers. Cargo airlines are eligible for up to $4 billion. This money is meant to keep workers paid.
- No layoffs. The airlines could not lay off any workers until at least Sept. 30.
- The government can require airlines to continue flying certain routes as needed. The bill includes a clause making sure the needs of smaller, rural communities are considered as part of this.
- The airlines must meet many of the criteria as large employers (listed above) — namely. no stock buybacks and limits on executive pay — to receive the money.
- Airlines also can qualify for loans. The bill includes $25 billion for passenger airlines and $4 billion for cargo.
Other vulnerable, critical industries
- The bill includes $17 billion in loans and loan guarantees for businesses “critical to maintaining national security.”
- This is at the discretion of the Treasury Secretary, but could include companies like Boeing.
Oversight of the $500 billion to corporations and airlines
This was a critical part of negotiations over the weekend.
- An inspector general must be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate to oversee this program. Their title will be “Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery.”
- The bill specifically says that the inspector general cannot have any previous business relationship with the president, vice president, any member of Congress, any of their children, nor any son- or daughter-in-law.
- There is also an oversight board of five people appointed by Congress. Each of the four party leaders (from the Senate and House) appoints a member. The speaker of the House and Republican leader in the House together chose a chairman.
- The treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, must disclose transactions to corporations within 72 hours.
- In addition, the secretary must answer questions Congress has about the use of this money.
Other programs for larger employers
- The “employer retention tax credit.” This provides a tax credit of up to 50 percent of wages to companies which must close, or have experienced significant losses, because of the virus. In addition, up to $10,000 in lost wages per worker is refundable to the company.
- Payroll tax delays for two years. The bill allows employers to delay paying 50 percent of this year’s payroll taxes as well as 50 percent of next year’s payroll taxes.
There are many additional tax incentives in this bill, ranging from net operating losses to changes in the corporate alternative minimum tax.
Tess Conciatori, Geoffrey Guray and Matt Loffman contributed to this story.