President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package just hours after it was rushed through the House Friday, clearing the way for aid to businesses, increased benefits for workers and direct payments to taxpayers.
The bipartisan CARES Act passed the House on a voice vote, over the objections of some members, would also include funding for research and medical equipment to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Included in the bill are hundreds of billions that could be mailed out in the form of $1,200 checks to individual taxpayers in coming weeks.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, called the relief bill oversized and fiscally irresponsible. But other Arizona lawmakers said that while they had some issues with the bill, it is sorely needed at a time when people’s health and jobs are being threatened by the coronavirus.
“There is an economic cost to saving lives, and Congress took the necessary steps to help small businesses, workers, and their families during this unprecedented time of hardship,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva in a prepared statement.
The vote and signing came just two days after the Senate passed the bill on a 96-0 vote, and required House members to be called back on short notice to get a quorum in the face of threats from a handful of conservative lawmakers to try to stall the bill.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security – or CARES – Act includes $500 billion in aid for industries hit hard by COVID-19, like airlines and hotels, another $350 billion in loans for small businesses and $250 billion in expanded unemployment benefits.
It comes one week after new unemployment claims hit almost 3.3 million, a record for one week and 3 million more than the previous week. Claims in Arizona jumped from 3,500 in a typical week to more than 29,000 last week
The bill also includes $300 billion in direct cash payments of $1,200 for individual taxpayers, with additional $500 payments per child. Trump said that means a family of four could soon get $3,400 from the government. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday in an interview with CNBC that people can expect to see their checks in three weeks.
Not all of Arizona’s lawmakers made it back in time to vote Friday. But all of them, except Biggs, voiced support for the measure. And all pointed to parts that would specifically benefit the state.
Democratic Reps. Greg Stanton of Phoenix and Tom O’Halleran of Sedona said in emailed statements that they had worked to secure funds for Arizona’s airports, universities, affordable housing and other state operations.
Of the $200 billion for medical equipment like N95 masks and ventilators to treat coronavirus patients, $2.8 billion will be allocated to fighting the virus in Arizona, according to figures provided by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson.
Lawmakers said tribal lands will also receive much needed funding from the bill to fight COVID-19.
“In my district, the Navajo Nation is dealing with a disproportionate amount of COVID 19 cases,” O’Halleran said on the House floor Friday. “This bill allocates over $1 billion to the Indian Health … Service and to tribal health care providers and over $400 million to tribal governments for equipment.”
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said in a statement that the bill “will help Indian Country combat the unique challenges this virus is presenting on Tribal lands, and it will help students whose semesters have been cancelled and who have been forced to find alternative housing arrangements on short notice.”
But Biggs said the handouts and benefits in the bill will end up “incentivizing people to stay unemployed as opposed to get jobs.”
“That’s really problematic,” Biggs said in a video after the vote. “We’re going to continue to fight the coronavirus. but we also have to make sure that our economy doesn’t get emasculated.”
Biggs was one of a handful of Republicans who shouted “no” when the bill came up for a voice vote, and who were overruled when they tried to force a roll call vote on the measure.
“Many individuals may be upset with my position on this package,” Biggs said in an emailed statement. “But I have talked to many who have warned against the future perils of enacting these unprecedented spending packages with little debate or consideration for our debt and deficit.”
The threat of a roll call forced leaders on both sides of the aisle to call lawmakers back to town in case their votes were needed. That included Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, who had been self-isolating for two weeks after possible exposure to a COVID-19 patient, who said he supported the bipartisan bill.
While Biggs said the bill goes too far, others said it does not go far enough to help working Americans. But they said that will be a fight for the next bill.
“We also should have included more relief for state, local, and tribal governments, more support to our hospitals and health systems, more funding to address food insecurity, and extended Medicaid eligibility to everyone in order to pay for all COVID-19 treatment costs,” Gallego said in a prepared statement. “I will continue to work to include these provisions in future legislation.”
Story by Christopher Scragg, Cronkite News