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Economy

The White House and Senate reach deal on a stimulus

Brandon Moseley

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Early Wednesday morning, the White House and Senate leaders finally reached a deal on a massive stimulus package they are hoping can keep the American economy from falling into a deep recession due to the government-imposed economic shutdown to deal with the growing coronavirus threat.

The final version of the Senate bill comes with a two trillion dollar price tag. The plan includes tax rebates, four months of expanded unemployment benefits, a $500 billion corporate liquidity program, $100 billion in aid for hospitals, $150 billion in aid for state and local governments, money for education, transit programs, and airlines, as well as checks to families, and a slue of tax rebates and benefits for businesses and corporations. It also authorized the Federal Reserve in conjunction with the Treasury to make up to $4 trillion in loans to corporations.

Americans who make up to $75,000 a year will get a one time check of $1,200. Americans with no or little tax liability would receive the same amount. The original Republican proposal had given them a minimum of $600. The deal was reached following five intense days of negotiations that began on Friday.

“At last we have a deal. … the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said during a speech on the Senate floor after 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday. McConnell pledging that the Senate will pass the stimulus bill later today.

Senate Minority Leader Charles “Chuck” Schumer (D-New York) praised the bill as “the largest rescue package in American history.”

“This bill is far from perfect, but we believe the legislation has been improved significantly to warrant its quick consideration and passage,” Schumer said.

The Hill is reporting that McConnell, Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland and incoming White House chief of staff Mark Meadows were all in the final negotiations. Schumer kept Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) closely abreast of what was happening during the discussions.

Pelosi has introduced her own $2.5 trillion stimulus bill that includes Democratic priorities such as ending photo ID for voting, parts of the Green New Deal, higher fuel economy and emissions standards for airplanes, and increased union collective bargaining powers. Republicans point to items like $35 million for the JFK Center for the Performing Arts as pork in the Pelosi bill.

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“With this coronavirus relief package, we’re trying to keep people employed—helping companies, large and small, maintain payroll to prevent massive layoffs,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). “This isn’t a corporate bailout. Spoke with KSL News radio this morning about why this is not the time for my Democratic colleagues to stall this package to add unrelated pet projects.”

“With hundreds of thousands being laid off every single day and employers shutting down—some permanently—this is no time for Democrats to dither, hoping to win corporate social engineering points,” Romney added. “Shameful, destructive, and dangerous.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) was an early supporter of a COVID-19 stimulus bill.

“It is my hope that in the coming days, we can pass an additional package that will contain comprehensive funding and protections to mitigate this virus and safeguard small businesses and others that make up the economic foundation of our nation,” Shelby said before deliberations began.

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Alabama) voted against ending debate (and negotiations) on Monday over dissatisfaction with the bill that McConnell introduced.

“You know the old saying: half a loaf is better than none,” Jones said. “But the vote today was not even 1/2 a loaf for hospitals, city & county gov’ts, small businesses & working folks, who would have got just a couple of slices while most of the bread goes to bailouts. That is why I voted NO!”

Jones said in a video statement that his two main sticking points were a lack of support for state and local government and a lack of transparency in the $500 billion corporate stabilization fund.

Republicans conceded both points to Jones.

Republicans hold a 53 to 47 majority in the Senate, but were seriously weakened when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) announced that he was infected with the novel coronavirus. This meant that Paul, as well as Utah Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee who are regularly in close contact with Paul, have to self-quarantine for 14 days so are unavailable for votes on the Senate floor.

According to a source in the administration speaking to the Hill, “The legislation creates an inspector general and oversight committee for the corporate assistance program, similar to what was done for the Troubled Asset Relief Program of a decade ago, according to the senior administration official.

Jones had objected to giving Mnuchin sole power to decide what corporations he gave loans and guarantees to corporations. Jones also demanded and got the $150 billion for state and local governments. Those points were both addressed in this version of the bill. On Monday, Jones co-sponsored legislation giving COVID-19 relief to hospitals. This version of the bill includes $100 billion in COVID-19 relief for hospitals. Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Selma) cosponsored similar legislation to Jones’s bill in the House.

Jones voted to end debate on an earlier version of the bill after Republicans conceded to his points.

A final key sticking point was bailouts for the troubled airlines, who have seen most of their international business grounded by the federal government. Republicans wanted to aid the airlines while some Democrats objected. This bill contains $25 billion in direct aid for airlines and $4 billion for air cargo carriers. The bill includes hundreds of billions of dollars in buffer capital for the Treasury Department to allow the Federal Reserve to hand out an additional $4 trillion in loans to distressed companies such as U.S. airlines and Boeing.

In a nod to Democrats, the bill bans stock buybacks for any corporation that accepts government loans during the term of their assistance plus one year. Schumer asked for and got a provision to ban businesses owned by the president, vice president, members of Congress and the heads of federal executive departments from receiving loans or investments through the corporate liquidity program. The prohibition also applies to their children, spouses and in-laws.

The bill includes $30 billion in emergency education funding, $25 billion in emergency transit funding, and creates an employee retention tax credit to incentivize businesses to keep workers on payroll during the crisis.

Aides are working on drafting the language for the final bill and a vote is expected later today.

(Orignal reporting by the Hill’s Alexander Bolton and Jordain Carney contributed to this report.)

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Economy

Gov. Ivey launches state guide to COVID-19 relief efforts

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Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced the launch of altogetheralabama.org, an online resource that will serve as a hub of information for the state’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

The site becomes the state’s official guide to COVID-19 relief efforts, to help empower those impacted by the outbreak and those who want to offer support.

“We wanted to quickly create a trusted resource that centralizes information, resources and opportunities for businesses and individuals in need of support,” Governor Ivey said. “We are all in this together.”

The website is designed to be a comprehensive guide to aid in navigating all issues related to the COVID-19 response. Individuals and business owners can seek help and identify state and federal resources that can provide a lifeline in the form of low-interest loans and financial assistance.

Business owners, for example, can learn about the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which launched April 3 to provide a direct incentive for them to keep their workers on the payroll. Displaced workers, meanwhile, can use the site to learn about enhanced unemployment benefits.

“It’s important for Alabama’s business owners and its workforce to take full advantage of the resources being made available through the federal government’s $2 trillion coronavirus relief package,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The site is meant to expedite the process so both employers and employees can get back up on their feet as fast as possible.”

At the same time, the site will function as a pathway for Alabama’s good corporate citizens and the general public to offer support and solutions that can help spark recovery across the state. It will act as a portal for companies, non-profits and individuals to volunteer, make donations of supplies, offer an assistance program, and even post job openings.

The site was developed in partnership with Opportunity Alabama, a non-profit organization that promotes investment in the state’s designated Opportunity Zones. It was facilitated by a partnership with Alabama Power.

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“Over the last two years, Opportunity Zones have allowed us to build a network of stakeholders that care deeply about helping distressed places,” said Alex Flachsbart, Opportunity Alabama founder and CEO. “We hope this site will provide a gateway linking our network to those businesses and communities in economic distress, no matter where they are in Alabama.”

“These are challenging times,” added Governor Ivey. “We needed a place to efficiently and rapidly post and disseminate information – as soon as it’s available – for all affected parties. Thank you for your support and partnership in helping bring Alabama together.”

Any business, program or individual who would like to join ALtogether as a resource in COVID-19 response and relief can register at altogetheralabama.org/join.

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BCA partners with Alabama Public Television to help small businesses

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The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) will present the Small Business Exchange on Alabama Public Television (APT) Thursday night, an event designed to help small businesses apply for federal stimulus funding under the new CARES Act.

In partnership with APT, BCA will bring together experts in business, banking, accounting and law to answer phone calls from Alabama business owners and employers as they grapple with the impact of the coronavirus on the state’s economy. New federal loans are now available for small businesses, but funding is limited in some cases and quick action is required.

“We have to make sure that Alabama’s small businesses get the loans and support they deserve in these tough economic times,” said Katie Boyd Britt, President and CEO of BCA.  “These business owners need as much help as we can give them to work through the process.  The first step in getting Alabama back to work is to get this loan money flowing to our businesses.

“Our team of experts is donating their time and resources because this is a critical time for small businesses,” said Britt.  “This federal funding can and will save companies and save jobs, so the BCA is facilitating this process in any way we can.”

There are $10 billion in Economic Injury Disaster Loans and $349 billion in Paycheck Protection Loans available to help the nation’s small businesses.  Each program has different eligibility criteria, financing, and application processes.  For the most part, small businesses of fewer than 500 employees, sole proprietors, freelancers and the self-employed, independent contractors, and 501(c)(6) organizations are eligible for one or both programs.

Because there has been confusion about the programs, too many business owners are uncertain about availability, qualifications, requirements and deadlines for each loan program.  The point of the Small Business Exchange is to get that much-needed information to business owners as quickly as possible.

The Small Business Exchange program airs Thursday night on APT from 7-8 p.m.  BCA experts will be available to answer questions from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. Thursday night.  In addition, experts will be available for consultation from 9.a.m. to noon Friday.

To ask a question or consult with our BCA experts during these times, the phone number is 1-833-BCA4BIZ (1-833-222-4249).

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Economy

Alabama automakers contribute to COVID-19 fight

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama’s automakers are doing what they can to help fight the coronavirus global pandemic.

Toyota’s engine plant in Huntsville engine is producing 7,500 protective face shields for local hospitals.

The plant has donated 160 safety glasses to local hospitals. Toyota has also made a $25,000 to the United Way of Madison County to support COVID-19 relief efforts.

“With our plant idled, Toyota Alabama is eager to contribute our expertise and know-how to help quickly bring to market the equipment needed to combat COVID-19,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

Toyota is performing similar services at its facilities across the country.

Toyota is not alone. The other Alabama automakers are offering community support as well.

Hyundai Motor America and its Hyundai Hope On Wheels program have already donated $200,000 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to help expand testing for COVID-19.

UAB CEO Will Ferniany said that the grant will support the existing drive-through testing site UAB is operating in downtown Birmingham and help other sites in Jefferson County provide much-needed screening.

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“Support like this gift from Hyundai Hope On Wheels helps our frontline medical staff understand that they are not alone in this fight,” Ferniany said. “This grant will help further UAB’s commitment to providing access to communitywide testing.”

If you think you might have symptoms of the virus or have been exposed to someone with the virus call 205-975-1881 between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. to schedule appointments at the downtown testing site.

Appointments will be scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. seven days a week. Those who are given appointments will be asked to arrive no more than 15 minutes before their scheduled appointment time and to follow the detailed instructions located on-site. You will not be tested without an appointment.

The grant will also be used to expand access for pediatric-specific testing services. About 20 percent of the downtown testing site’s patient population is age 25 and under, and officials from UAB Medicine, the UAB Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama hope to continue to expand testing for this group.

Hyundai is donating $2.2 million to support drive-thru testing centers at 11 children’s hospitals throughout the U.S. Hyundai Hope on Wheels supports families facing pediatric cancer. COVID-19 is a particular risk to children with cancer because fighting cancer means that they have a compromised immune system.

Hyundai operates an auto assembly plant in Montgomery, which has been idled due to the spread of COVID-19 to the Montgomery area.

Honda’s plants across the U.S. are assisting during the crisis, including its factory in Lincoln.

Honda has pledged $1 million to food banks and meal programs across North America. Honda’s plants have donated equipment, including N95 face masks, to healthcare providers. They have also deploying 3-D printers to manufacture visors for face shields and are investigating ways to partner with other companies in producing equipment.

The Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance has donated N100 reusable filters, protective suits and other supplies to local hospitals, as well as $5,000 to the DCH Foundation to help with the hospital’s curbside testing process.

Mercedes is working with the Alabama Department of Commerce on ways that the company or its supplier network can support making parts for the medical industry, and it is providing expertise to other manufacturers that are producing healthcare supplies.

Mercedes has also hosted a LifeSouth community blood drive that received about 95 donors.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “Whether retooling to create products or donating funds to obtain supplies needed to combat COVID-19, Toyota, Hyundai, Honda, and Mercedes-Benz certainly have demonstrated their roles as key Alabama economic development partners. Until a treatment is found, supplies and strategy are of great value for fellow Alabamians and Americans. Thank you to all companies and individuals who contribute in various ways.”

 

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Congress

Alabama may need 2,500 more ventilators. It’s having to compete to get them

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama may need 2,000 more ventilators than it has, and it’s being forced to compete with other states to get them on the private market.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Friday that the Alabama Department of Public Health is attempting to source its own ventilators as a number of hospitals in the state are already struggling and asking for more.

The state requested 500 ventilators from the federal government through the Department of Health and Human Services and the national strategic stockpile. It asked for 200 of them to be delivered urgently.

“HHS has indicated that they’re not going to fulfill that anytime soon because they’re still taking care of places like New York City,” Harris said in an interview with APR.

When Alabama nears an expected surge — say 72 hours before hospitals are expected to be overwhelmed with patients requiring life support — they may be able to make the extra ventilators available.

So Alabama, like a number of states, is being forced to try to source ventilators on its own through the private market, where hundreds of hospitals, all the other states and other countries are trying to do the same.

Harris said he signed a purchase order Thursday for 250 more ventilators.

“We’re waiting to see, and then there are others that we’re waiting to hear from,” Harris told APR. “We’re doing our best to try to source these in any way that we can.”

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“We’re attempting to source those ourselves, but as you know, all the states are looking to source their own and in some measure competing with each other,” he said a press conference Friday evening when Gov. Kay Ivey announced a shelter in place order.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones said Thursday that Alabama will likely make additional requests, but there are only 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile and in the U.S. Department of Defense surplus. And with every other state in the country also requesting these supplies, the federal government has said that states should not rely on the national stockpile to bolster their ventilator capacity.

By Friday, nearly 1,500 people were confirmed positive with the virus. At least 38 have died. Dire models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — models that influenced the state’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order — project that by mid-April, Alabama could have a massive shortage of ventilators and hospital beds.

“The timeline I think makes sense and the time when we’re expected to have a surge is the part that was most useful to us,” Harris said. “We’ve been trying very hard to get an order in place with regards to this surge that we expect to happen.”

The model estimates that Alabama could have a shortage of 20,000 hospital beds, 3,900 intensive care beds and more than 2,000 ventilators.

At least 3,500 ventilators would be needed at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-April, according to the IHME model. Last month, Alabama Hospital Association President Donald Williamson said the state has a surge capacity of about 800.

The same model projects that about 5,500 people could die from COVID-19 in Alabama by August. However, the model is live and is regularly adjusted. Earlier this week, it suggested that 7,000 people could die by August.

Harris said the state, over the past couple of weeks, has added a few hundred additional ventilators to its capacity by converting anesthesia machines and veterinary ventilators for use on those infected with the coronavirus.

“Yet, even with adding all of those ventilators, going up by a few hundred units, which means to tell you that we’re still using around the same percent of all of our ventilators even though the number [of ventilators] is going up,” Harris said. “So we know that there are more patients on ventilators.”

The state health officer said some hospitals in the state are already struggling but others are cooperating to share resources.

“They are really working hard to make sure that they have what they need, and we’re trying very hard, along with the governor’s office, to make sure that Alabama has enough inventory,” Harris said.

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