Congress poised to pass historic aid package

But many pols worry it doesn’t go far enough

THE REPUBLICAN-LED US SENATE Wednesday night passed a $2.2 trillion aid package to help blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the largest economic relief bill in US history.

The Associated Press reported that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will support the bill, which is expected to pass the House on Friday. President Trump has said he will sign it. The bill would give direct payments to individuals — $1,200 per adult earning up to $75,000 a year ($2,400 for a married couple earning up to $150,000) and $500 per child. It would enhance unemployment benefits, including making benefits available to gig workers, such as Uber drivers or freelancers.

CommonWealth reported yesterday that bills that would give additional state-funded cash assistance to individuals are being considered in the state Legislature, although those bills have not yet gained traction.

There would be $500 billion set aside in the federal plan for loans to large companies, including airlines. The package includes large pots of money for wide swaths of the economy: hospitals and health care providers, food and housing assistance, the National Guard, municipalities, first responders, manufacturers of medical equipment, organizations working on research and development of tests, vaccines and treatment, small business loans, arts and culture, education, public transit, and various government agencies.

The money for hospitals could be particularly important for Massachusetts, which has a large hospital network, including a number of struggling safety net hospitals and community health centers.

Sen. Ed Markey said the bill is “far from perfect” but the money “will help countless Americans.” Markey noted that the new unemployment insurance will help independent contractors and out-of-work fishermen; transportation money will be available to help Logan Airport and the MBTA; seniors will benefit from suspended penalties on retirement accounts; and small businesses will get loan forgiveness grants. Markey said the bill does not do enough to cancel student loan debt or provide workers with paid sick time.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted that the bill “is not the bill I wanted” but “its immediate investments are vital.” She said she will work to provide oversight on how a bailout fund for large corporations is used.

US Rep. Joe Kennedy, a Democrat challenging Markey for his Senate seat, tweeted that while he will not stand in the way of the “urgent relief our country needs,” he believes the package does not go far enough. “Congress should immediately build the next package to increase direct cash payments, health center funding, Medicaid dollars, and manufacturing of PPE and life-saving medical equipment,” Kennedy wrote.

Democratic US Rep. Katherine Clark told the Boston Globe that lawmakers are already thinking about putting together another stimulus package.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, declined to take a position on the package Wednesday afternoon, saying the numbers were still “floating around all over the place” and it would be hard to speak in detail until the completed bill was available. But Sen. Adam Hinds of Pittsfield, the co-chair of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee, said he fears the stimulus package doesn’t do enough.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

“Massachusetts has backed the federal government for years,” he said. “We are one of only 10 states that gives more in taxes than we receive in aid. Now it is time for the federal government to back Massachusetts.”

One House member who will likely have to skip Friday’s vote is Rep. Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat, who is self-quarantined at home after exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19. He said he has not been able to get tested, because his doctor told him that his symptoms were minor and his treatment would not change if he tested positive.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Boston Democrat, is also feeling sick and is awaiting results of a COVID-19 test.