By Brandon Martin
After weeks of deliberation in the Senate and House of Representatives, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, on March 27.
The bipartisan relief package will provide an estimated $2 trillion in aid to individuals, families, hospitals, businesses and local and state governments impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“This bill provides significant financial relief to our families and businesses struggling with the effects of widespread closures and other public health measures,” U.S. Sen. Mark Warner said in a release before the House voted on the bill. “It greatly expands access to unemployment benefits – including, for the first time, gig workers, contractors and the self-employed – and includes tax credits and other incentives I negotiated with the Trump Administration to help small businesses keep workers on payroll and keep them from going out of business during this crisis.”
While acknowledging some perceived shortfalls in the bill, Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith also supported the bill before it was signed.
“I have read the complete text of the CARES Act,” he said. “While I do not agree with everything in the bill, I believe that it will deliver on its most important goals – helping Americans out of work due to the coronavirus, offering support to small businesses, and providing federal health agencies, states, and local governments with the funding and equipment they need as they continue to fight this pandemic.”
Now that the bill has been signed into law, residents of Martinsville and Henry County can potentially get relief in a variety of ways.
Cash payments to individuals and families headlined the stimulus package.
The federal government is expected to pay approximately $300 billion total, with individuals making $75,000 or less receiving a one-time payment of $1,200. Married couples filing jointly will receive $2,400, with the payment amount increasing by $500 for each additional child in the family.
Incomes higher than $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for families, will receive checks for lesser amounts, eventually phasing down to no assistance for those making more than $99,000 and $198,000 respectively.
Cash payments will be based on 2018 and 2019 tax filings.
Those receiving Social Security benefits who don’t file tax returns are still eligible.
In addition to cash payments, CARES also expands assistance through unemployment benefits, with $260 billion earmarked for unemployment benefits. The amount may change, depending on the number of new claims that are filed. States still will be in charge of their individual programs, but the package will also provide an additional $600 a week from the federal government.
The act also adds an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance. Those that are approaching the maximum number of weeks allowed under their state’s insurance also may benefit from the extension. Workers that aren’t typically covered under unemployment insurance, such as self-employed workers, freelancers and contractors, can draw benefits through the new temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which will run until the end of the year.
CARES also addresses some issues facing small businesses in the area.
The act provides grants up to $10,000 to cover immediate operating costs for small businesses. An additional $350 billion has been appropriated for the Small Business Administration, which can provide up to $10 million in loans per business. The loan can be used to maintain payroll, keep workers on the books, pay rent, pay mortgage, and forgive debt as long as the business employs workers through the end of June.
In the arena of public health, hospitals responding to the coronavirus may receive help from the $100 billion allocated by the federal government. Another $1.32 billion is being provided to community health centers.
Building off of previous relief measures, CARES will also expand the social safety net for various food programs.
Another $15.5 billion will be provided for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to assist with the number of expected new applications to the program. Food banks will receive $450 million along with other food distribution programs.
Assistance will also come to state and local governments in the form of $339.8 billion, with $274 billion going specifically to COVID-19 response. It also provides $13 billion for K-12 schools and $5.3 billion on programs designed to help children and programs such as childcare centers.
Moving forward, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine said “for America to get back to work, and for Americans to get past their natural fears and anxieties, we have to be smart from this point forward as we battle this virus. All people have a role to play in this by practicing social distancing to protect one another. I have confidence that Virginians and all Americans will meet this challenge.”