Congress poised to pass historic aid package

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.

“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.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG


BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker closes elementary and secondary schools through May 4. Jeff Riley, the state education commissioner, sees an “amazing opportunity” to rethink education. (CommonWealth)

Many Massachusetts residents are waiting for federal COVID-19 relief dollars to start flowing, but some lawmakers on Beacon Hill are not satisfied and want to add state dollars to the mix. (CommonWealth)

Baker is under growing pressure to push back the April 15 state tax filing deadline — the feds have extended theirs by 90 days — but state leaders are worried about delaying state revenue at a time it will be sorely needed. (Boston Globe) That pressure includes a Globe editorial today.

AG Maura Healey is taking some whacks at the Baker administration, but maybe it needs them, says Joan Vennochi. (Boston Globe)

Virus notes: MBTA facing fare and pension shortfalls…New lines at supermarkets and pharmacies…Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at odds on construction..Policing the restaurant shutdown….More support for homeowners, tenants….Eastern Bank’s $10m in grants, loans. (CommonWealth)

More than 1,000 Massachusetts doctors send a letter to Baker warning that the health care system could be close to collapse. (WBUR)

Baker suspends plastic bag bans statewide. (The Salem News)

Sen. Bruce Tarr introduced a proposal to temporarily let notaries notarize documents via videoconference so that legal transactions can continue. (The Salem News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Cape Cod police report fewer calls and arrests during the pandemic (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Politico reports on a 69-page pandemic preparedness playbook that the National Security Council developed in 2016 — and the Trump administration largely ignored.

US Rep. Seth Moulton isolates at home after experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. (Gloucester Daily Times) Moulton is taking heat for sponsoring a controversial resolution blaming China for its early handling of COVID-19. (The Salem News) Roger Lau, Elizabeth Warren’s longtime campaign manager, calls the resolution “hateful fear-mongering.” (MassLive)

The state’s proximity to New York City — where coronavirus cases are skyrocketing — and the high volume of movement of people between Massachusetts and Gotham have epidemiologists here worried. (Boston Globe)

Empty slots and high turnover have left lots of key federal agencies ill-prepared to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. (New York Times)

LIVING WITH CORONAVIRUS

As police officers and firefighters catch COVID-19 or enter quarantine, departments are relying on each other for backup. (MassLive)

ELECTIONS

It seemed only a matter of time until this got floated: What if Democrats swapped out Joe Biden and made New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo their presidential nominee? (Boston Herald)

Ed Markey keeps his fundraising engine going amidst the pandemic. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Two Boston ride-hailing drivers say they kept working even when sick because they couldn’t afford to give up the income. (Boston Herald)

More alcohol stores and breweries are offering home delivery. (Telegram & Gazette)

Workers who don’t speak English are having trouble applying for unemployment benefits online. (MassLive)

Some Massachusetts veterans are asking Gov. Charlie Baker to reconsider his decision to close recreational marijuana shops. (MassLive)

Delaware North announces work, pay reduction for full-time Bruins, TD Garden workers (WGBH) Globe sports columnist Christopher Gasper rips owner Jeremy Jacobs because of it.

Some restaurants are offering toilet paper with their takeout. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Daycares serving “essential” workers stay open but with fewer kids and more safety precautions (The Salem News)

Worcester school officials release their plan to spend new state money by expanding pre-kindergarten and college prep programs and hiring more diverse teachers. (Telegram & Gazette)

MIT has agreed to pay its food service workers through May 22. (Boston Globe)

Teachers hold “car parades” to wave hi to their students. (Telegram & Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Safety net hospitals and health care centers like UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester and Lawrence General Hospital are teetering on the financial brink. (CommonWealth)

The Pioneer Institute’s Josh Archambault says the Baker administration should expand the telehealth reforms it put in place in response to coronavirus. (CommonWealth)

Coronavirus prompts HealthFirst to move to phone, online appointments. (Herald News)

ARTS/CULTURE

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art lays off the majority of its staff. (WBUR)

The Front Steps Project is bringing quarantined families out of their houses – just barely – for family portraits. (Patriot Ledger)

TRANSPORTATION

Three MBTA bus drivers test positive for COVID-19. (CommonWealth) Two other MBTA workers are also infected. (WCVB)

The union representing bus drivers wants the Brockton Area Transit Authority to stop charging fares to avoid coronavirus “ticking time bomb” (The Enterprise)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Middlesex sheriff and the district attorney are working together to reduce inmate counts. (MetroWest Daily News) The Northwestern district attorney is also working to reduce inmate counts,  but defense attorneys say more could be done. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

The ACLU is asking for the release of two people detained on immigration violations who are at high risk for COVID-19. (MassLive)

MEDIA

KUOW, the public radio station in Seattle, stops carrying President Trump’s COVID-19 briefings because of “false and misleading information.” (The Hill) Staff at the cable news networks are worried that they are becoming propaganda arms for the White House even as their ratings soar. (Daily Beast)