New York and DC call out shortcomings of relief bill while others stand to gain

Shooter_Sam/iStock(NEW YORK) — Though the Senate’s passage of a $2 trillion stimulus package Wednesday night was regarded as progress in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, leaders of some of the nation’s most affected cities issued sharp criticism that it just wasn’t enough.

“The congressional action, in my opinion, simply failed to address the governmental need,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference on Thursday.

“The only thing it’s doing is helping us in the COVID virus expenses, which is nice. But the bigger problem is on the lost revenues,” said the governor, who is at the helm of the most infected state in the country. New York reported more than 30,000 cases as of Thursday, which is 15 times more than California and Washington state.

According to the bill, the allocation for New York, and the other 49 states, is determined by population, not by how severely the state is affected by coronavirus. That’s why New York state, which has plunged into debt fighting COVID-19, claims that the payment it is receiving is insufficient.

But every state is guaranteed at least $1.25 billion under the bill, which means states that are less populous than New York, such as Wyoming, or states with a higher population and fewer reported cases, such as Texas, could fare quite well. It’s something Cuomo’s office has pointed to in frustration.

“The gross political manipulation is obvious,” Dani Lever, communications director for Cuomo, said in a statement Wednesday — subtly pointing out that both Texas and Wyoming are Republican states, while New York is a reliably Democratic state.

A few hundred miles south, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser expressed frustration because her city wouldn’t receive even the minimum of $1.25 billion. Instead, the city — which the bill will count alongside the territories even though all residents there pay federal income taxes — would share one $3 billion dollar sum with the the other five U.S. territories, divided up by population.

By that math, the nation’s capital is expected to receive $500 million.

The “very idea of being treated like a territory is shocking, infuriating. It’s wrong, it’s outrageous,” Bowser said at a press conference Wednesday. “We pay more taxes than 22 states. We have a larger population than several states. … It’s unconscionable to give D.C. the least amount of funding of any state.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the allocation for Washington “makes no sense” and suggested there could be other motivations for the perceived snub.

“It doesn’t face the realities of a public health crisis that we have in our country and goes out of its way to do something so out of the ordinary,” she said. “But it was a decision. It wasn’t an accident. It was a decision. So let’s make a decision to correct that.”

As Pelosi hinted, both Cuomo and Bowser’s concerns could be taken up in the next round of stimulus efforts, which Congress is already looking into.

But for now, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — who Cuomo was in touch with about his sharp criticism — said New York should be happy with what it got.

“He wanted more to the state government and I told everybody he should take his case to Mitch McConnell,” Schumer, who represents New York, said of his conversations with Cuomo during a press conference Wednesday evening.

New York residents will cumulatively get $40 billion in relief, Schumer said, because of the other assistance included in the bill that’s targeted at Americans, regardless of state — relief that will go to small business owners, hospitals and unemployment insurance.

And in fact, the $2 trillion package will open the door for assistance far beyond even the states, local businesses across the country or hospitals.

Buried in 800 pages of text are clues to how how some Americans are going to experience a benefit from the stimulus package, and how some are missing out.

Who stands to gain?

The telehealth industry: The bill relaxes restrictions for in-home care, allowing more providers to do at home consultations and allowing more funding to allow for this care. Lawmakers emphasized telehealth care as one way to prevent non-critical COVID-19 patients from entering medical facilities and possibly spreading the virus.

Those requiring unemployment benefits: The bill increases state unemployment benefits, allowing those seeking unemployment to receive their state unemployment benefits, plus an additional $600 per month. Schumer called it “unemployment insurance on steroids.” Those facing unemployment due to the virus will also be eligible for four months of benefits.

Local businesses: To call it a win might be a stretch, since many businesses have already had to lay off workers or permanently shutter as non-essential businesses across the country have been ordered to close. Still, the stimulus bill does allocate $350 billion for loans to be given to small businesses so that they can maintain payroll and cover other overhead expenses.

If small businesses are able to limit their layoffs and meet other requirements, these loans would turn into grants and be forgiven by the government.

Hospitals: Hospitals are getting money to support staff, enhance their capacities and equipment needs, and secure more personal protective equipment for health care workers.

The bill also allocates money for research into vaccines and treatments for coronavirus and places requirements on insurers to cover testing.

Some in need of fast cash: American adults who are making less than $75,000 singly or $150,000 jointly can expect to see $1,200 per adult in the coming weeks, plus an additional $500 per child. Single adults making less than $99,000 or couples making less than $198,000 will receive some money, though not the full $1,200 amount. Those whose income is above that threshold will not receive any money.

Undocumented workers: Those who file their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security number have been left out, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. This means undocumented workers — despite their enormous role in the economy — are left out of relief policies, including checks that will be delivered to 90% of Americans for up to $1,200.

The cruise ship industry: Though President Donald Trump pointed to the industry as a “prime candidate” for some sort of federal relief package, there’s no money in the bill allocated directly for cruises. The industry may be eligible to compete for loans coming out of the $500 billion fund managed by the Treasury.

Trump family companies and other companies owned by elected officials: Democrats lobbied hard for language in the bill that would prevent companies owned by the families of government officials from qualifying for federal loans under the bill. They won. Additional regulations on the $500 billion in Treasury loans were also written into the bill, including a special inspector general to examine the loans, a congressional oversight board and requirements for speedy public disclosure of the loans.

Oil and renewable energy: The original Republican proposal for the bill included support for the oil industry. Democratic negotiators countered, instead seeking new emissions standards and tax credits for solar energy. Neither prevailed. There are no oil benefits or green energy incentives in the bill.

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