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.
“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.)
State unemployment rate dropped to 5.8 percent last month
Alabama’s unemployment rate decreased from 6.7 in September to 5.8 percent in October.
Alabama’s unemployment rate decreased from 6.7 in September to 5.8 percent in October, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. October’s seasonally adjusted rate represents 130,329 unemployed persons, down from 153,338 in September. That compares to 61,210 in October 2019.
“We’re glad to see a drop of almost an entire percentage point in our unemployment rate this month,” said ADOL Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We will continue to see fluctuations in these economic indicators as pandemic concerns remain, but this month showed growth in both the number of jobs we are supporting and the number of people who are working.”
The number of people counted as employed in October was 2,121,505, up from 2,119,297 in September, but down from the 2,186,771 measured in October 2019.
There were 9,262 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, up from 8,764 the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.
Of the claims filed between Nov. 8 and Nov. 14, there were 3,001, or 32 percent, that were related to COVID-19, down from 38 percent the previous week.
Governor announces $200 million “Revive Plus” small business grant program
Revive Plus is the second wave of funding for organizations with 50 or fewer employees and will award grants of up to $20,000 for expenses.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced Revive Plus, a $200 million grant program to support small businesses, non-profits and faith-based organizations in Alabama that have been impacted by COVID-19. Revive Plus is the second wave of funding for these organizations with 50 or fewer employees and will award grants of up to $20,000 for expenses they have incurred due to operational interruptions caused by the pandemic and related business closures.
“As the state has rolled out over $1 billion of the CARES Act monies to the individuals and businesses affected by COVID-19, it became evident the group most overwhelmingly hurt during the pandemic were the small ‘mom and pop’ shops,” Ivey said. “A second round of assistance through Revive Plus will ensure that the small business owners who have borne the brunt of the downed economy can be made as whole as possible. As we head into the holiday season, my hope is that this will be welcome news for our businesses and help ease their burdens from what has been a very hard year.”
Entities may receive up to $20,000 to reimburse qualifying expenses if they have not received federal assistance for the corresponding item they are claiming with the state of Alabama. The Revive Plus grant is in addition to any state of Alabama Coronavirus Relief Fund grant previously received, including the Revive Alabama Small Business, Non-Profit, Faith-Based, and Health Care Provider grants. There is no set cap on the number of entities that may be awarded a Revive Plus Grant. Grants will be awarded to qualifying applicants on a first-come, first-served basis until the funds are exhausted.
“The Revive Plus program is much needed in our small business economy,” said Senate General Fund Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Atmore. “I commend Governor Ivey for taking this action, recapturing unspent dollars and using a proven program to bring economic relief to our small business owners.”
Alabama received approximately $1.9 billion of CARES Act funding to respond to and mitigate the coronavirus pandemic. Alabama Act 2020-199 initially designated up to $300 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund for individuals, businesses, non-profit and faith-based organizations directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. After the initial $100 million for small business that was reimbursed starting in July 2020, legislative leadership approved a second round of $200 million from allocations made to reimburse state government and from other grant programs that have ended with the full allocation unspent.
“This second round of funding for Alabama entities will provide much needed resources for our state’s economy,” said Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. “I appreciate the governor and the Finance Department’s work to ensure we utilize these funds to the benefit of our citizens.”
Entities may access grant information and the grant application through the Coronavirus Relief Fund website. The application period for the Revive Plus Grant Program will open at noon, Nov. 23, 2020 and run through noon, Dec. 4, 2020.
“This is welcome news for small businesses, non-profits and faith-based organizations that are continuing to feel the adverse effects of the Covid-19 virus,” said House General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark. “Time is of the essence and I urge all qualified entities to apply as soon as possible beginning Monday, November 23rd.”
A coalition of the Business Council of Alabama, the National Federation of Independent Business of Alabama (NFIB Alabama) and the Alabama Restaurant Association worked closely with the governor’s office to revisit the grant program after the initial round of Revive Alabama reached the $100 million cap.
“Businesses throughout the state are working diligently to keep their employees and customers safe, all while ensuring commerce throughout Alabama continues to move,” said Business Council of Alabama President and CEO Katie Britt. “Revive Plus will be essential in giving Alabama businesses access to the necessary and needed funding to keep their doors open and keep hard working Alabamians employed. Our broad coalition of businesses, associations and chambers commend Governor Ivey and her administration for putting these critical funds into the hands of businesses who need it most.”
Qualifying entities must have been in business March 1, 2020, are currently in business and have a valid W-9 to apply for a Revive Plus Grant.
Applications open the Livestock Auction Market Direct Payment Program, Poultry Processor Reimbursement Program
Each program will assist Alabama’s agriculture with costs associated with disruptions experienced due to COVID-19.
Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate announced that both the Livestock Market Direct Payment Program and the Poultry Processor Reimbursement Program applications are open.
The applications are available at agi.alabama.gov or crf.alabama.gov. The deadline to submit applications is Dec. 1, 2020. Each program will assist Alabama’s agriculture with costs associated with disruptions experienced due to COVID-19.
Pate and agricultural stakeholders developed a broad-based relief plan to support agribusiness in the state of Alabama, which has been hard hit by the coronavirus crisis and the resulting supply chain interruptions.
In August, Gov. Kay Ivey announced that $26 million of CARES Act Funds could be used to assist Alabama agriculture impacted by COVID-19. These funds were used to establish the Alabama Agricultural Stabilization Program (AASP).
Pate said on Monday that the Livestock Market Direct Payment Program is a $500,000 program to provide direct payments to stockyards affected by the crisis. Payments cannot exceed $25,000. Only licensed Alabama cattle auction markets are eligible.
Pate said the Poultry Processor Reimbursement Program is a $1.2 million program to reimburse Alabama poultry processing facilities for purchases of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), disinfectants, workstation dividers and COVID-19 testing kits to protect their employees from COVID-19.
Reimbursements for these expenses would be capped at a maximum of $40,000 per facility. Additional eligibility requirements will be posted at agi.alabama.gov or crf.alabama.gov.
The state has until the end of the year to spend nearly $1 billion in CARES Act money or it goes back to the federal government.
Sewell’s annual job fair will be virtual this year
Job seekers will have the opportunity to connect with employers from 10 different industries.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s annual job fair is open for registration. This year, the job fair will be virtual, hosted via Zoom.
Sewell announced the opening of registration for Alabama’s 7th District 9th Annual Job Fair. Job Fair 2020 will be a two-day event held virtually on Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 18 and 19, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. central time.
Job seekers will have the opportunity to connect with employers from 10 different industries. Registration is required via Eventbrite. Participation in the job fair is free and open to the public.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic, I know so many jobs have been lost, and now more than ever our annual Job Fair is needed,” Sewell said. “For the past 8 years, the Job Fair has been a space for job seekers in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District to connect directly with employers. We are very excited to continue our tradition with a robust 2020 virtual program! Over the course of two days, job seekers can learn about jobs available right NOW in Alabama.”
This year’s virtual event will feature employers from more than 10 types of industries, including automotive, restaurant and food management, transportation and construction, hospitality and retail, health services, utilities and telecommunications, manufacturing and production, staffing agencies, government agencies and law enforcement.
Sewell said she made a commitment to work to improve the lives of people in the 7th Congressional District when she was elected. Getting people jobs and growing the economy of the district has been the goal of the job fair.
Sewell said that when she was elected, the counties of the district had some of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Coming out of the Great Recession, the district had an unemployment rate about 14 percent.
That rate is now down to 6 percent — still double the national average but a tremendous improvement for the people in the district. Then COVID hit.
Sewell said that the district, like the rest of the country, was hard hit by the coronavirus crisis and many jobs, particularly in the hospitality sector, were lost.
Sewell said that they don’t have as many employers participating in this year’s job fair as in some in the past but it is “still a great opportunity.”
“We have a pretty good track record,” Sewell said. According to surveys, 25 to 30 percent of participants in past job fairs found jobs through the Job Fair, Sewell’s office said. Since that is dependent on participants responding to the surveys, they suspect the number is higher.
“We do have very strong participation from all the largest employers in the state,” Sewell said. There are opportunities there for people with a variety of skill sets.
Sewell said that she is very proud of all of the investments that have been made by manufacturers in the 7th Congressional District and cited the expansions at Hyundai and Golden Dragon in Wilcox County.
“We have a very good track record,” Sewell said of past job fairs. “Everywhere I go I meet people who tell me how their lives changed because of our job fairs.”
On Nov. 3, Sewell was elected to her sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives.