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Column: The coronavirus bill is a big step toward stimulus that helps you, not corporate bigwigs

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Someone was paying attention to the lessons of the last bailout.

The $2 trillion stimulus bill on which Congress will start voting Wednesday includes several provisions aimed at making sure that the government's massive bailout of big business comes with at least some strings attached and that ordinary households get help.

As we write, much of the measure is still under wraps, though portions have been making their way into the public sphere droplet by droplet. A draft described as "near final" has also been released by the Senate. We'll outline what we've seen, and update as more details emerge.

--The good: The measure includes a one-time stimulus payment to families of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child, phasing out for households with earnings of $75,000 for singles and $150,000 for couples. Singles earning $99,000 and couples earning $198,000 won't get the checks.

Democratic negotiators managed to eliminate a Republican provision that would have reduced payments to low-income households. Now everyone up to the phase-out threshhold will be eligible for the full amount.

Unemployment insurance payments are massively pumped up. The bill provides for payments of $600 per week to all unemployment claimants for four months (raised from the three originally proposed by the Senate GOP) on top of every state's standard unemployment payments.

 

On average, says economist Arindrajit Dube of the University of Massachusetts, this will bring the unemployment compensation rate to close to 100% of pre-crisis pay for laid-off workers.

"Feds pay for it all," Dube tweeted. "This is a big deal." The federal payment will overcome the cheeseparing benefits of many states, which range from a high of $795 per week in Massachusetts to only $235 in Mississippi.

For those who don't qualify for conventional unemployment benefits, such as the self-employed, gig workers or people forced to leave their jobs to care for children or others in the household, the bill provides a special pandemic benefit amounting to half the state average benefit plus $600 a week.

The measure provides for some oversight of $500 billion in bailout funding for large corporations, though the powers of the oversight bodies aren't clear. One provision that seems to be ironclad (on the surface) is a ban on any bailout funds going to businesses owned by President Trump or his offspring, Vice President Pence, members of Congress or heads of executive departments.

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