Help is on the way says Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz. The words came as the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a $2 trillion aid package designed to save the American economy from collapse.
He acknowledged that the amounts ultimately reaching American workers and businesses likely will not be enough to make everyone whole, but said this would represent the largest stimulus effort ever passed by Congress.
Despite a week of partisan sparring, the Senate ultimately approved the measure 96-0.
Passage momentarily appeared in jeopardy when four Republican Senators threatened to obstruct the process due to concerns about overly-generous unemployment benefits. Support from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Donald Trump ultimately was enough to overcome that opposition.
The Federal Reserve has been pouring monetary stimulus into financial markets in recent weeks, but economists have warned that only Congress can provide the help needed to support the broader economy.
If ultimately enacted, the bill would substantially expand unemployment insurance, with some workers potentially receiving their full pay and benefits.
Businesses and non-profits with fewer than 500 employees would be eligible for zero-interest, forgivable loans, essentially cash subsidies if certain conditions are met, through the Small Business Administration.
Senator Schatz says the bill also provides $130 billion nationwide for a “medical surge,” with special focus on protective garments and masks for healthcare workers.
“Obviously its important on a moral level for them,” Schatz said, “but it’s also really critical that we do not have outbreaks in healthcare setting. If we lose our ability to staff medical situations, then we will have a rapidly accelerating crisis.”
Direct cash payments will also be sent to individuals under the proposal. Anyone making under $75,000 will receive a one-time payment of $1,200. For married couples the ceiling will be $150,000. An additional $500 will be available for each child in a household.
There will also be funding assistance for state and local governments combating the pandemic, although it was not immediately clear how much would be coming to Hawaii.
The House is expected to take it up the measure today. President Trump has said he will immediately sign the bill when it reaches his desk.
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has said that Americans could start receiving funds within 2-3 weeks if Congress approves the rescue package swiftly.
On Wednesday, Scott Murakami, the state Director of Labor and Industrial Relations, said the state had received 60,000 new claims for unemployment insurance. 20,041 were received on Tuesday alone.
Murakami said a typical day in February saw 221 unemployment filings.