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$2 trillion federal relief bill will help Hawaii ‘ride out the storm,’ Sen. Brian Schatz says

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, accompanied by White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland and acting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, spoke with reporters as he walked to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, accompanied by White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland and acting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, spoke with reporters as he walked to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday.

The unprecedented $2 trillion federal bailout bill agreed to by the U.S. Senate and the Trump administration early this morning is supposed to provide immediate aid to Hawaii and other states to cope with the coronavirus crisis, and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz pledged today to police the effort by monitoring how quickly the cash actually flows to hospitals, businesses and unemployed workers here.

The massive bill that the Senate and President Trump agreed to early this morning would be the largest stimulus package ever passed by Congress and allocates funding in bulk that will then be divided up among the states according to population.

The specific amounts that will be directed to Hawaii businesses, workers and government are still unknown, but Schatz today provided an overview of the hundreds of billions of dollars earmarked for initiatives that are supposed to keep businesses from collapsing and prevent employers from resorting to layoffs.

“The hope is that for Hawaiian Airlines, for our charter schools, for individual families, for restaurants, for freelancers, that this provides sufficient resources for us to ride out the storm,” Schatz said.

Hawaii U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said the nation’s hospital and health care system “is in no way capable right now of taking care of the potential number of people who are going to need to be hospitalized,” prompting the Senate to advocate for a multi-billion dollar nationwide package of assistance for hospitals.

The package includes a one-time cash payment of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child in the household to quickly inject cash into local economies, Schatz said. The Associated Press reported today the package would give direct payments of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year, and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child.

Among the other provisions of the bill are:

— $130 billion for relief for hospitals, clinics and nursing homes to keep them afloat, and help them buy gear to protect health care workers as they treat the victims of the coronavirus.

— A $150 billion to shore up the finances of states and municipalities. Hirono said that piece of the relief package guarantees that Hawaii will received at least $1 billion in emergency federal assistance for state and county governments to help offset plummeting tax collections and the new, urgent demands for services.

— $350 billion for a 100% small business loan support program — designed for companies with fewer than 500 employees — that would essentially provide cash for companies that continue to employ their workers even if the companies are shuttered and cannot open for business.

Hirono said that piece of the package also includes about $10 billion in grants, but “it’s not going to make everybody whole, and I think this is why we are going to have to do a COVID 4,” meaning a fourth bill to provide relief from the pandemic and the economic disaster that has arrived with it.

She said the small business grants would be worth up to $10,000 per business “just to cover small businesses operating costs, but $10,000 doesn’t go very far in Hawaii.” There are also loan forgiveness provisions in the package, and the loans will be zero-interest or offered at very low interest rates, she said.

— $260 billion for a federally funded unemployment insurance program that provides workers to keep their full salaries and benefits for up to four months provided they are “furloughed” but not terminated, Schatz said. That program is designed for middle- to low-income workers, he said.

“If you are a higher income individual and you’re laid off, you’re probably not going to be made whole, but for a substantial portion of the population, it will be tremendously helpful” he said. He said the dollar thresholds for the program are not available yet.

“Now is not a time for self-congratulations, but it is fair to say that help is on the way,” he said.

— $78 billion to bailout the airline industry, with the caveat that the airlines that accept the federal funds must retain all of their employees. “They can’t accept federal funds and then lay everybody off,” Schatz said.

— $200 billion to support federal agencies, including many that depend on revenue streams such as rents or farebox payments that are drying up. The Veterans Administration will receive a $20 billion infusion of cash to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

Hirono said she hopes the U.S. House will quickly approve the package by unanimous consent shortly after it is approved by the full Senate.

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