What $2T coronavirus relief bill means for you

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Congress this week adopted a $2 trillion rescue package to blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus as the country braces for the deepening hardship required to protect public health. 

The legislation, which President Donald Trump signed Friday, is the third from federal lawmakers this month and is intended to keep families and businesses above water during a temporary freeze in the country's economic activity.

The bill gives about $45 billion to state and local governments in the form of disaster funding, $100 billion for American hospitals and health care facilities to help handle the influx of patients, nearly $400 billion for small business loans and a $500 billion fund for distressed industries. 

People wait in line to enter the unemployment office at New Center One in Detroit, Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

"It will help Americans who are forced to stay home and aren’t receiving a paycheck or who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own," Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township said in the Senate Democrats' weekly address Friday.

The bill includes a safety net in the form of one-time stimulus checks for millions of Americans: $1,200 per adult and $500 per child age 16 and younger.

The tax-free benefit would be scaled back for individual taxpayers earning over $75,000 a year (or $150,000 for a couple filing jointly) and phase out for people making over $90,000.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing, who helped negotiate the Senate deal, noted if someone hasn't filed a tax return in the last two years because they've not exceeded the minimum income threshold, they won't be on file with the Internal Revenue Service to receive the payment.

The fastest way to get the payments will be if the Internal Revenue Service has your direct deposit information on file, she said. Otherwise, the IRS will send a check to the last address the agency has on file, which could be a problem if someone has moved, Stabenow noted. 

"There is not a higher priority at the IRS right now. They are going to do it as fast as possible," she said. "You can go to the IRS advocate and give them your direct deposit information on the website." 

The federal aid package also expands unemployment benefits, allowing workers to receive an additional $600 a week in compensation on top of whatever their state formula provides to them. 

The bill extended by 13 weeks unemployment benefits for workers covered by traditional unemployment insurance, but also offers benefits to workers who aren’t typically eligible for unemployment aid — small business owners, freelancers, seasonal workers and people who just started a job who would normally have a waiting period before qualifying. 

The measure includes workers who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits. 

The unemployment provision in the final bill was based on legislation written by Peters that he worked on with Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Peters said. 

"It's really patterned on what we do for natural disasters. When hurricanes go through an area, we put in additional unemployment and expand the eligibility knowing people are going to be impacted by that disaster," Peters said. 

"Clearly, we're dealing with a hurricane that's impacting the entire country, and we need a an unemployment system response to that hurricane."   

A record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, including more than 129,000 in Michigan.

The stimulus package includes zero-interest loans for small businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees), which could be forgiven if they stick to conditions like keeping workers on the payroll for eight weeks.

The maximum amount loan through the Small Business Association was increased to $10 million for loans applied for through Dec. 31 of this year. 

Stabenow focused on health care pieces of the legislation, noting funds are included to bolster supply chain development and enabling industry to produce more personal protective gear and medical equipment. 

The legislation boosts funding for community health centers, Medicare payments and public health departments such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The package includes funding to support rural hospitals and mental health, addiction and telehealth services and an additional $3.5 billion to support coronavirus vaccine development, she said.

Stabenow said she hopes the next stimulus package will do more for food assistance and student loan relief. 

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, also hoped to see more relief for cash-strapped local governments that have been strained as they respond to the coronavirus and the U.S. Postal Service, which could go under this summer due to a virus-induced reduction in mail.

She spoke Friday during the House debate on the bill. 

"This package is not perfect: We must support our postal workers. We must ensure municipalities have the funding to survive," said Lawrence, a former mayor and postal employee manager. "Our work is not done."

Under the bill, each state receives a minimum $1.25 billion. Michigan will get an estimated $3.8 billion total when other program funding is included, such as $351 million for public transit, nearly $74 million for emergency housing grants and $11 million for election assistance. 

The legislation includes $30 billion for elementary and secondary schools and colleges and universities, $5 billion for community development block grants and $3.5 billion for child care. 

Some lawmakers criticized elements of the bill as wasteful, such as the $25 million for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and $75 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

"There's parts of it that are Washington as usual. Giving money to various parochial projects that people have. Explain to me why you need to provide $75 million more to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting," said U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden. 

"But we can't hold up something that has such a significant impact on individuals and families — businesses that need to pay their bills." 

Peters noted the Senate created an accountability committee to oversee the large spending authorized in the stimulus legislation. It includes the Government Accountability Office and inspector generals in an effort to guard against fraud and waste and look after each dollar spent.