Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh County, was part of the task force that worked out a bill covering more than 800 pages, that responds to what Toomey described as “devastating” economic consequences.
“Except for essential businesses and a very small number of other exceptions, it is not permissible to open your doors, it is not permissible to go to work,” Toomey observed in his conference call with Pennsylvania reporters.
But Sen. Bob Casey, D-Lackawanna County, told his conference call that efforts of Democratic senators strengthened a COVID-19 bill “that helps workers and families, not just special interests.”
Casey said the bill has “an unprecedented investment in unemployment insurance, and over $377 billion in immediate relief for small businesses and additional resources for medium-sized businesses.”
Toomey agreed about the bill’s “dramatic increase in unemployment insurance benefits, about $600 per person of new federal money,” on top of state jobless benefits “so many, many workers will be able to receive close to (and) in some cases fully all of the income they have lost by not being able to go to work.”
Toomey said it also includes direct checks to those who had earned income last year, $1,200 for each person who earned up to $75,000, $2,400 for a married couple who earned up to $150,000, and $500 per dependent child.
While they were coming from differing perspectives, the two senators saw similar goals.
“We have to kill this virus and figure out how we can help people to survive this virus,” Toomey said.
“We can’t even begin to say we are on the right track until we have the pandemic in a place where if it is not under control, it is pushed back,” Casey said.
Casey said the bill also “provides significant funding to combat this public health emergency, including a $150 billion ‘Marshall Plan’ for hospitals, nursing homes and community health centers.”
Toomey said that included $100 billion “that will be paid directly to hospitals and other health care providers,” as well as other benefits including $250 million for a hospital preparedness program.
There also is a category “to scale up our production of tests, to make sure tests do not cost anyone anything, there will be no out-of-pocket costs,” Toomey said. “We are putting a lot of money into research to develop a vaccine and to do it as quickly as possible, and to develop treatment, therapy, for people who are infected with this virus.”
Even so, Casey said, there is “still a lot more work to do” with such issues as student loans, and that Senate Republicans “did not want to provide extra help on Medicaid” or aid for cities and states.
Toomey said $150 billion would be allocated to the states, principally by population, to help with “fighting this very serious public health threat.” Toomey said that would include “a little over $5 billion to Pennsylvania.”
Casey said he was pleased that provisions from his bill aimed at helping seniors and people with disabilities, “to support seniors at home, including new resources and flexibilities for nutrition services, and to protect nursing home residents from this terrible virus,” was included in the stimulus package.
Toomey said there were provisions to help employers on various levels, including a small business loan program providing $300 billion to companies that employ up to 500 people, guaranteed through the federal Small Business Administration but administered by banks.
For those smaller companies, Toomey said, “the amount of the loan that is used for covering payroll, that amount is going to be forgiven.” In other words, “the federal government is paying the payroll for small business.”
“I think our team did a good job with small business as well,” Casey said, citing how up to $6.5 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds would be used to help rebuild industries that are impacted.
“Unlike Congressional Republicans, who refused to support the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act when a Democratic president (Barack Obama) proposed it to rescue the American economy in 2009, Democrats worked with a Republican administration to help all Americans during this time of national crisis,” Casey said. “This agreement could have been even better for Main Street if not for the intransigence of Senate Republicans, who prioritized Wall Street and corporate interests over hardworking Americans.”
Toomey said there are provisions for larger businesses, including a program designed to provide broad-based access to credit, utilizing $500 billion. He said “a very small portion,” $46 billion, would be directly available for a category that includes the airlines.
But, Toomey added, up to $4 billion would “ensure that our capital markets are operating smoothly,” and large companies with 500 to 10,000 employees would get “a 50 percent tax credit … for eight or more weeks … to make it possible for companies to keep people on their payrolls to the extent that that is viable.”
“This agreement could have been even better for Main Street if not for the intransigence of Senate Republicans, who prioritized Wall Street and corporate interests over hardworking Americans,” Casey insisted. “This legislation must be the beginning of Congress’ efforts to address this public health crisis and stabilize our economy, not the end.”
On issues affecting rural Pennsylvania, a spokeswoman for Casey said the senator was disappointed that the bill did not include sufficient funding to ensure that all K-12 students could receive adequate internet connectivity at home. She said Casey requested at least $2 billion in federal E-Rate funds for libraries and schools.
But, the spokeswoman added, the bill includes $25 million to support broadband for telemedicine and distance learning, as well as $100 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect effort to increase broadband access.
Elsewhere, U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, said resources being allocated by Congress and President Trump are making it possible for small businesses to weather the storm.
“To combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus, America has used extreme social distancing, which has the downside of bringing much of everyday life to a standstill,” Thompson said. “This has been challenging to our historically strong economy and we must provide certainty, liquidity and financing for businesses, consumers and everyday Americans. Many employees across the country, through no fault of their own, have found themselves without work and deserve to have clarity on how they will pay their bills and support their families. This is all a major undertaking and we must make sure that when the curve is flattened, we come out of this ready to get Americans back to work.”