Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal said the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package approved by Congress this week after months of back and forth between Democrats and Republicans will help stabilize the American economy and American families. But with the ink barely dry, new economic pain is about to hit Massachusetts.
Neal, who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which was responsible for writing large portions of the bill, called it “a significant achievement” and “a bridge” to the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
"I can't emphasize enough some of the success we've had in getting this out the door, but a reminder -- more is going to have to be done," said Neal noting that 20 million Americans are currently unemployed.
The bill revives supplemental federal unemployment payments at $300 per week through March 14th and allows “gig” economy workers to again collect jobless benefits. It revives the Paycheck Protection Program that provides forgivable loans to qualified businesses. There will be $166 billion total in direct payments into the bank accounts of individuals.
"A family of four actually could qualify for up to $2,400," said Neal. He said the payments could start arriving next week.
Also included in the massive 500-page bill are extensions of several tax credits, continued funding for a variety of assistance programs, incentives for energy efficiency, and a compromise designed to end surprise medical billing.
"All considered, this is a pretty good downpayment," said Neal.
As Neal spoke in the lobby of the federal courthouse in Springfield where his district office is located, Governor Charlie Baker at the State House was announcing new restrictions on businesses in a bid to limit the spread of the virus in Massachusetts following the holidays.
Starting Saturday, many industries including restaurants and retailers will be limited to 25 percent of maximum capacity. Indoor gatherings, including for events, are capped at 10 people and outdoor gatherings at 25.
"Together the intent of these restriction will be to pause activity and reduce mobility so we can reduce the spread of the virus without closing our schools and our businesses," said Baker.
The new restrictions will stay in place for at least two weeks.
"If we can all agree to slow the spread over the next two weeks it will help us work to build the bridge we need to the vaccine," said Baker.
Notably missing from the stimulus bill is any direct aid to cities and states that are facing yawning budget gaps. Neal said there is some indirect help for things like vaccine distribution and COVID-19 testing.
"Senator (Mitch) McConnell, the (Senate) Majority Leader, was not going to budge on state and local aide, so we hope we will get him to reconsider come the end of March," said Neal.
Just Monday, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno decried the lack of financial help for cities and states in the federal relief bill, pushing back on claims that it amounts to a bailout for badly run local governments.
"This money, which states and cities are hopeful to get, is not a slush fund," said Sarno. "This money is to fill the gaps in what we have already spent -- deficit spending."
Sarno said Springfield has spent $18.2 million to respond to the pandemic while revenue from sources including restaurant meal and hotel room taxes is down by $7.3 million.