ST. PAUL — The U.S. Senate has passed an economic stimulus bill in response to the ballooning COVID-19 pandemic, which has rocked the U.S. economy as well as the daily lives of workers and businesses across the country.
The U.S. Senate passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act late on Wednesday, March 25, and the bill now moves on to the U.S. House before reaching President Donald Trump's desk.
As more and more Americans contract COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus, nonessential businesses have been forced to temporarily shut their doors in order to prevent further spreading the virus. Businesses have suffered blows, workers have been laid off and the stock market has tanked.
The omnibus bill would provide direct payments of up to $1,200 to individual taxpayers, $2,400 for married couples, plus $500 for every eligible child. It would also bolster states' unemployment insurance programs and waive penalties for early retirement account withdrawals.
In a Wednesday news release, Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said "challenging times require swift and bold action from the federal government."
“That’s why I’m glad the Senate was able to rise above politics and act in a bipartisan way to provide much-needed relief to the American people," he said. "(The CARES Act) will take meaningful steps to help stabilize an uneasy economy, provide significant resources to support state unemployment programs, and most importantly, it will continue to deliver resources to the health care workers fighting to stop this pandemic."
Thune, who as whip corralled votes and negotiated the broad legislation, was not present for the vote because he is self-quarantining "out of an abundance of caution" due to feeling unwell, though his doctors do not believe he has contracted the virus.
From Minnesota, Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said the Senate's omnibus "will deliver much needed assistance to patients and those on the front lines combating this pandemic and will provide economic support for people across the country."
But while she said the legislation is "a step in the right direction," she said "there is much more work to do."
For instance, Klobuchar and other colleagues have asked the Federal Trade Commission to protect Americans from scammers who try to take advantage of the crisis and heightened fears, and has introduced legislation to sustain rural broadband connection during the pandemic.
From North Dakota, Republican U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer said that the bill not only addresses economic fallout from the pandemic, but also boosts the country's health care systems.
"Our bipartisan plan bolsters the economy, protects American workers and families, assists small businesses, and increases funding for health care facilities and life-saving medical equipment as we work toward a cure for this virus," Cramer said. "The best way to end the economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19 is to combat the pandemic itself."