Help for movie theaters, farms, mass transit: What's in the COVID-19 rescue bill you might not know about
The roughly $900 billion stimulus package Congress passed Monday to combat the spiraling COVID-19 pandemic isn't just about direct payments to millions of Americans, another round of forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses, or money to help distribute the coronavirus vaccines.
The bill, which heads to President Donald Trump for his signature, attempts to address the far-reaching fallout of a virus that has killed more than 320,000 Americans, infected millions more and forced scores of businesses to shut down and lay off workers. Trump denounced the bill Tuesday night.
Here are several provisions in the bill that haven't gotten a lot of attention:
1) Helping live stage venues keep the lights on
Some $15 billion is included in the measure for performing arts centers, independent movie theaters and other cultural institutions that have been hit particularly hard by the imposition of social distancing measures designed to limit the spread of the virus.
Only those that have already closed or are at risk of shutting down would be eligible for the federal grants, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, who was a chief sponsor of the Save Our Stages Act which became part of the relief package.
"Texas’ historic and world-class entertainment venues were some of the first businesses to close, and many remain shuttered nine months later," he said.
2) Keeping renters in their homes
Many Americans who lost their jobs because of the pandemic have also had trouble coming up with the rent. So the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March not only provided assistance to those families but also prevented landlords from tossing out their COVID-strapped tenants until Dec. 31.
The relief package adopted Monday adds another $25 billion to the pot of aid available to families. And it extends that moratorium on evictions until Jan. 31.
Democrats who had pushed for more help were willing to accept just a one-month extension under the assumption that the federal government will be more active to prevent evictions when Joe Biden is inaugurated as president Jan. 20.
3) Expanding the internet in hard-to-reach areas
The bill includes $1.3 billion to expand broadband on reservations and other rural pockets of the country, an infrastructure program many lawmakers have long sought to address to close the digital divide.
So what does a faster and more reliable internet have to do with fighting a deadly virus. Telehealth for one. With the pandemic making access to already sparse medical resources even more limited, doctors could increase their connection to patients.
Another benefit would be distance learning. With many communities limiting – or even eliminating – in-person classes, students have become more reliant on the internet for their instruction.
4) Protecting transportation systems from crashing
Few industries have felt the pain of pandemic's stay-at-home response as much as airlines, passenger trains and transit agencies.
The bill Congress passed includes money for all three sectors: $2 billion for airports, $1 billion for Amtrak, and $14 billion for bus and rail systems serving cities and suburbs. The money for airports also includes relief for businesses operating that serve passengers.
The measure also provides $15 billion in grants to employees of passenger air carriers as well as $1 billion in grants to employees of contractors working for the airlines.
“This legislation is a lifeline for businesses and workers who have been hanging on by a thread," U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. More than four million travel jobs have been lost this year, and this package includes long-needed provisions to help employers keep their lights on."
5) Confronting the stress of the pandemic
While the virus itself has yet to infect more than 90% of the nation, its wake of economic upheaval and social isolation has left many Americans emotionally drained, mentally exhausted and deeply depressed.
A Centers for Disease Control study released in August found that 40% percent of American adults said they had struggled with mental health or substance abuse in June.
The relief bill provides $4.25 billion to increase mental health and substance abuse services, including $50 million for suicide prevention programs.
6) Lending a hand to hard-hit agriculture
When schools aren't open to serve meals and restaurants have to limit their capacity, farmers suffer as well.
The bill includes nearly $12 billion to help make up for losses America's crop growers, poultry and dairy farmers, cattle ranchers and food processors have had to swallow – and to make sure they survive to feed the country when the nation is fully open for business again.
The money would help offset losses farmers have shouldered from lost crops and livestock because they were unable to process them due to a lack of workers or demand.
7) Forgiving a loan to the U.S. Postal Service
Tucked inside the relief package is a provision that forgives a federal $10 billion loan to the U.S. Postal Service that was included in the CARES Act passed earlier this year.
While the loan was not needed at the time the terms were finalized in July, the bill passed Monday exempting the agency from having to repay any amount that was borrowed.
The postal service continues to face rising costs and decreasing consumer demand for first-class mail deliveries.