Merkley releases details of federal aid plan to cope with coronavirus effects

NOTE: The U.S. House passed the measure Friday and sent it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley has listed key elements of a $2 trillion federal aid plan to help families and businesses cope with the economic slowdown triggered by coronavirus-related shutdowns.

The plan is the largest in U.S. history, dwarfing the $700 billion Congress passed in 2008 after the collapse of financial markets and the $787 billion passed in 2009 after the ensuing economic downturn.

The plan awaits a Senate vote later Wednesday afternoon after language is made final. It still requires approval by the House, whose leaders are reviewing its details, and the signature of President Donald Trump.

Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, was scheduled to speak with Oregon reporters on a conference call after the Senate vote.

In a statement earlier Wednesday, Merkley said:

“We must realize that any choice between our lives and our livelihoods is a false choice — we cannot have one without the other. This proposal invests in both health care and the economy. It provides desperately needed relief so that we can save lives now and keep families afloat until we have defeated this virus. Now, Congress must pass it, and the president must sign it, without delay.”

Among the major items in the $2 trillion aid package:

• Households: Checks of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child to most working and middle-class Americans.

• Small business: $350 billion in fully forgivable loans to small businesses.

• Health care systems: $150 billion to support a surge in demand for medical services.

• Unemployment benefits: An additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits, and an expansion of the program to cover part-time workers, gig workers, the self-employed, and contractors.

• State and local governments: $150 billion to provide stability to state, local, and tribal governments to maintain health, education, and other services in the face of collapsing tax revenue.

• Schools and universities: $30.75 billion to help local school systems and higher education institutions continue to provide educational services to their students.

• Housing and homeless programs: More than $7 billion for affordable housing and homelessness assistance programs to help low-income and working class Americans avoid evictions.

• Child care: $3.5 billion to provide child care assistance to health care employees, emergency responders, sanitation workers, and other workers deemed essential during the response to the coronavirus.

The package includes a commitment of $255 million per year, sponsored by Merkley and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., to boost the nursing workforce.

“As the husband of a nurse, I’ve seen up close how difficult their jobs are and how important they are to patients,” Merkley said. “As this pandemic intensifies, nurses will be on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus. We needed a major investment in nurses and the nursing workforce even before this crisis hit, and we need it even more now.”