Just hours after the largest U.S. economic stimulus became law, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz told the state Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 today that financial help is on the way for Hawaii but many details remain unclear.
Schatz provided an update of what he knows about the stimulus package, but told the committee to expect firmer answers by at least Monday.
He said he did not “want to ruminate or guess or suppose” because there are “just too many answered questions about implementation” about what Schatz described as “the largest stimulus in American history by at least twice. It’s about $2 trillion.”
What’s most important, Schatz said, is that the package is designed “to allow people to continue to survive during this period of sheltering in place.”
Much of the media has focused on the one-time payments of $1,200 for anyone earning up to $75,000, along with $2,400 per couple and $500 per child.
“That’s a one-time cash payment,” Schatz said. “It will not sustain people for very long. But at this point every little bit helps.”
At the same time, he said, laid-off employees who earned $65,000 or less also will be entitled to 13 weeks of federally funded unemployment insurance “plus $600 per month on top of normal,” Schatz said. “The idea is full income replacement for that period for people who make 65 (thousand dollars) or less.”
The payments also will go to “gig workers, contractors, freelancers,” which required a temporary change in the law, Schatz said.
There also is $150 billion to fund a “Marshall plan” for the nation’s health care system, which is seeing hospitals and clinics overwhelmed and desperately asking for personal protective equipment and ventilators at the same time that many are losing income by shuttering services such as non-essential surgeries, Schatz said.
“Their fiscal situation is becoming quite dire,” he said.
The money will be distributed to communities on a per capita or pro rata basis “as quickly as possible,” Schatz said.
Hawaii small businesses also will receive a share of $377 billion in the form of “a loan program for businesses that have 500 or fewer employees to essentially cover all of the costs of payroll and operations” for 8 weeks, he said.
“This is a new program and we’re working just as hard as we can to make sure this is actually available, not just theoretically available,” Schatz said. “… It’s a loan that ends up being waived after 2 months as long as you keep meticulous records.”
Asked what happens to small businesses after eight weeks, Schatz said, “We don’t know beyond the next couple of months.”
“It’s important to level with the public about the level of uncertainty here,” he said. “We are living in uncertain times.”
After complaints about laid-off and furloughed workers inability to file unemployment insurance claims, Schatz said state labor officials have “quadrupled service capacity,” then added: “I don’t know if even that’s enough.”
There are also provisions for “some student loan relief and some mortgage and rent forbearance” — along with “rent relief for certain renters,” but Schatz said he and his staff need to study the bill to understand all of the details.
“It gets rather complex,” he said. He added that he believed the stimulus means “forbearance of rent and not a waiver of rent.”