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Time is of the essence, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, said of a $2 trillion emergency bill White House and Senate leaders agreed in principle to Wednesday to help an economy affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
Taxpayers will receive a $1,200 direct payment for individuals with incomes up to $75,000 per year before it's phased out and ended altogether for those earning more than $99,000 annually. Families would receive $500 more per child.
Congress members across northern Illinois still were sorting out the details on the 900-page bill Wednesday, but a couple of them shared their initial reactions and highlighted some of the benefits.
Bustos touted a massive increase in unemployment insurance benefits designed to match the average paycheck of laid off or furlough workers. The program was broadened to include freelancers, furloughed employees and gig workers, such as Uber drivers.
"As we look to deliver a strong deal for America’s families and this bipartisan agreement is a significant step forward in delivering relief," Bustos said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, was hopeful in a morning appearance on WCMY radio in Ottawa, noting payroll-tax relief will be one measure designed to help small businesses that continue to employ workers through the crisis.
The stimulus bill would give businesses tax credits and allow them to defer their payroll taxes so they can continue paying employees. According to reports, businesses may delay paying payroll taxes for 2020, then pay 50% in 2021 and the other 50% in 2022. This gives businesses more cash flow.
"A lot of changes that are going to be beneficial to small businesses are interest deductions, pushing off future expensing, making sure they have the capital to survive, payroll tax holidays, cutting back on what they have to spend on the employees as long as they keep them hired during this time," Kinzinger said. "It's not going to be perfect compared to a good economy, but I think it's the best thing we can do to keep this going."
The government would provide loans to small and mid-size businesses with 500 or fewer workers to prevent layoffs and to continue paying employees.
"A significant expansion of relief for small businesses," Bustos listed as one of the highlights of the bill. "Rent, mortgage and utility costs will also be eligible for SBA loan forgiveness."
Bustos also listed additional oversight requirements to ensure provisions funded by taxpayers benefit taxpayers.
A significant investment in hospitals, the health system and state and local governments, would be included in order to provide them the resources needed during this emergency.
Larger companies would receive incentives from a $425 billion fund controlled by the Federal Reserve, and an additional $75 billion would be available for industry-specific loans — including to airlines and hotels.
The agreement includes $100 billion for hospitals and health systems across the nation, as well as billions more specifically for personal and protective equipment, workers, testing supplies and any measures taken to house new patients.
Kinzinger noted some Democrats have opposed aid to larger companies, but said most of these companies provide Americans with their paychecks. He also said the relief bill includes farmers in many of the small business measures.
"Unlike in 2008 we ended up bailing out the very people who put us in that financial crisis," Kinzinger said. "This is making sure the American people and small business can survive at a time by no fault of their own we're in this devastating moment because there's a virus.
"It's absolutely the right thing to do at the moment."
Critics of the bill
Kinzinger said, however, the measures taken provide short-term help, and will not be enough to help the economy if the coronavirus outbreak persists for months.
Four conservative Republican senators demanded changes, saying the legislation as written “incentivizes layoffs" and should be altered to ensure employees don't earn more money if they're laid off than if they're working.
Other objections floated in from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has become a prominent Democrat on the national scene as the country battles the pandemic. Cuomo, whose state has seen more deaths from the pandemic than any other, said: “I'm telling you, these numbers don't work."
More details are expected to be released as the bill is finalized. U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, who has called for free coronavirus testing, said she'd have comments at that time.