$2 trillion stimulus package aims to deal with coronavirus, boost economy

A $2 trillion economic stimulus package is about to be put into place as the nation deals with the challenge of the coronavirus crisis.

Congressional leaders say the monies will also be available for state and local governments, federal agencies and hospitals as they respond to what is now considered a worldwide pandemic.

The bill provides $130 billion for hospitals, $150 billion for local and state governments and $367 billion in financial aid for small businesses. Another $45 billion would fund additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community service, according to The Associated Press. The bill provides a one-time direct payment to Americans based on a maximum 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. The direct payment does have a cap based on income.

The National Farmers Union noted rural health will get $185 million to support critical rural access hospitals, rural tribal health and telehealth programs, and poison control centers. Another $25 million will improve access to distance learning and telemedicine through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development. For agricultural assistance, $14 billion will be used to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, which is used to stabilize, support and protect farm income through initiatives like the Market Facilitation Program.

The package also provides $9.5 billion to help specialty crop growers, farmers who support local food systems, dairy farmers and livestock producers.  It allows for a temporary three-month extension on repayment of commodity marketing assistance loans from nine months to a year. For rural businesses, Economic Injury Disaster Loans will be available to cooperatives with fewer than 500 employees, $100 million to improve access to rural broadband through the ReConnect program and $20.5 million to support an additional $1 billion of lending through Rural Development’s Business and Industry Loan Guarantee program.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will receive $15.5 billion in additional monies to assist more participants but this will not increase benefit levels for individuals. An additional $8.8 billion will be available for child nutrition programs and $445 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a Kansas Republican, said during the Kansas Together Telephone Town Hall conference call on March 24, coronavirus has to be dealt with first and even before the stimulus package was approved Congress and President Donald Trump have recognized the challenge COVID-19.

Roberts said Congress has appropriated monies for inspection services, which is important for food production and eases transportation regulations so that truckers can get products to destinations.

“The administration has noted the value of the food system,” he said of the recent Department of Homeland Security’s declaration that agriculture is a critical industry to help mitigate the interruption of lifeline supply chains.

Roberts noted it was important for the federal government to come up with a plan to help Americans and it does so with direct checks to help individuals and families and also aid businesses with assistance loans that are designed to retain employees. Unemployment benefits will be boosted and extended for a longer period of time. Loans will be available to the airplane industry because they are essential to national security, he said.

Roberts also commended Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and her administration, state lawmakers and local leaders for working together in a bipartisan manner to fight COVID-19. He said it sets the right example and is the Kansas way to solve problems.

“We must all do our part,” Roberts said.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].

A $2 trillion plan to address the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on the United States economy will soon go into the implementation phase and many people have weighed in on what it means. Here are excerpts from those who have been following or are part of the legislative process.

National Farmers Union President Rob Larew:

"Would address many of our most urgent concerns," primarily ensuring that rural hospitals are adequately prepared to handle this crisis and that our food system can continue to operate. "The challenges our country is currently facing are unprecedented—and they call for unprecedented solutions. In the coming weeks, we will learn more about the additional needs of our rural health care system, farmers, and rural communities, and we urge Congress to be ready to address them." 

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall:

“America’s farmers and ranchers face enormous volatility as markets and supply chains rapidly react to changes, but I’ll say again that farmers and ranchers will not let Americans down. All members of Congress must understand that farmers have almost no control over the prices of the goods we produce, so fulfilling our commitment to America requires a team effort.”

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Sen. Charles Grassley, R-IA:

“Across our nation, Americans are doing their part to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Through no fault of their own, Americans are being ordered to stay home or close their businesses. As a result, this health crisis is quickly becoming an economic crisis. This bipartisan legislation rapidly delivers recovery checks to help individuals and families cover their immediate expenses. It also helps businesses of all sizes keep employees on the payroll throughout the crisis and ensures that those who are furloughed or laid off have access to beefed up unemployment insurance. The bill also provides a much-needed infusion of cash to our health care professionals who are fighting the pandemic on the front lines.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-KS:

“Our country is facing a pandemic, and we must act now to make certain Kansans have the support they need to weather this storm. The CARES Act is far from perfect and includes many provisions I would not support in ordinary circumstances, but hospitals need supplies, small businesses need loans, farmers and ranchers need certainty and folks who are out of work, through no fault of their own, need relief. Through direct payments to families, assistance to hurting industries and strategic solutions to meet health care demands, Phase III will provide relief and resources to help make certain small businesses can keep employees on the payroll and reopen their doors when this pandemic has passed.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-NE:

"This bill isn’t great, and I’ve been fighting like crazy to make it better. It’s got some really good stuff that’s going to turbocharge vaccine development and help small businesses…” 

U.S Sen. Cory Gardner, R-CO:

“The CARES Act provides approximately $2 trillion in direct economic relief and support for our frontline healthcare providers, assistance to help ensure businesses can afford to keep employees on staff and assurances that we will get through this together.” 

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO:

“The coronavirus pandemic poses the greatest threat to Americans that we have seen in decades,” said Blunt. “People are scared for their health and the health of their loved ones. Businesses large and small are struggling to stay afloat. Workers are worried about losing their jobs and not being able to make ends meet. Healthcare providers and first responders are putting their lives on the line every day to take care of people in their communities. We have to speed relief to everyone who needs it and the CARES Act the Senate just passed does that.” 

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-OK:

“We are facing the greatest public health crisis we’ve seen in 100 years. The CARES Act provides massive funding for our health care system and local communities to make sure our doctors, nurses, public health workers and rural hospitals have what they need to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Care will be provided for everyone who needs it—no one needs to worry. It provides billions for the development and eventual purchase of vaccines, test kits and other preparedness efforts, while cutting red tape and empowering the private sector to help us create the tools we need.”

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-SD:

“Just-passed Senate bill takes meaningful steps to: help stabilize an uneasy economy; provide significant resources to support states; support health care workers on the frontlines fighting this pandemic.” 

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM:

“In major legislation like this, the details matter. We needed to stay at the bargaining table to make sure those who actually need help receive it. It was also imperative for Congress and the administration to make sure we spend taxpayer dollars effectively and with proper oversight and accountability.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX:

Our country is in a crisis. When millions of lives are on the line, we have a responsibility to act an"d to act decisively. Members of our communities are dying, our hospitals and medical facilities face being overwhelmed with new patients, small businesses are closing their doors, millions of workers are losing their jobs, and entire industries are on the brink of collapse.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-AR:

"Low and middle-income Americans need help now-not in weeks or months. By using existing government programs to surge cash to struggling families and businesses, we can get them that assistance now.”

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-WY:

“It helps to fill in the gaps of the previous packages and provide the financial assistance needed for small businesses and employees in order to avoid massive unemployment lines and a complete economic collapse of our country. Employees are losing their jobs and businesses are having to shut down, through no fault of their own. They need our help. This entire situation is unprecedented and unique—and it calls for unprecedented solutions.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT:

“This bill is far from perfect, but after working to fix some of its most serious shortcomings and make improvements, I believe it will now help provide the critical, urgent relief that Montanans need. After two failed attempts at delivering for Montana, I’m glad my Republican colleagues listened to our concerns and agreed to support our small businesses, employees, hospitals and communities that have been hit hardest.” 

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobucher, D-MN:

“As we confront the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we must protect the health, safety, and economic security of the American people. After days of bipartisan negotiations, the emergency relief package that the Senate has passed will deliver much needed assistance to patients and those on the front lines combating this pandemic and will provide economic support for people across the country.”