Government officials are working hard to try to stem the growing pandemic from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with measures around the world ranging from travel restrictions to outright calls for people to stay in their homes as much as possible. On the economic front, though, policymakers have concentrated their efforts at trying to anticipate potential consequences of the coronavirus outbreak. Targeted stimulus packages have multiplied and grown in size as the scope of the pandemic has increased, and what at first seemed like a package for just a few billion dollars has suddenly expanded to trillion-dollar proportions.
Below, we'll take a look at what's already gotten through Congress and the White House, along with what's on the table now.
March 6: $8 billion for health
Lawmakers designed the first phase of coronavirus relief specifically for actual healthcare measures. Congress and the White House agreed to provide additional funding for key U.S. agencies involved in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration. It also provided money for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in working internationally, as well as the Small Business Administration to help administer $1 billion in loan subsidies.
The phase 1 stimulus package had the goal of helping to develop new coronavirus treatments, implementing public health measures to try to slow and prevent the spread of the disease, and provide some relief to ailing businesses. In addition, money sent overseas was consistent with the U.S. position of helping other nations in need.
March 18: $100 billion for broader relief
Just a couple days ago, lawmakers moved forward with a larger measure with a much broader scope. The so-called phase-two deal included a wider variety of provisions designed to offer economic assistance to those hit hard by the pandemic. They included the following:
- Paid sick leave for two weeks for all businesses that have fewer than 500 employees
- Job-protected family medical leave for up to 12 weeks for a qualifying need, which includes public health emergencies
- Boosts to unemployment insurance benefits
- More money for food assistance programs affected by the outbreak
- Free testing for coronavirus, regardless of whether a patient has health insurance coverage
The bill initially met some resistance on Capitol Hill, but lawmakers eventually passed it with a wide majority.
At this point, there are dueling proposals for a third phase of coronavirus relief, with an exponentially growing price tag that has reached the $1 trillion mark. The biggest provision is likely to be a direct payment to individuals, with the latest proposals suggesting two separate installments. There's been debate about whether everyone would get a check from the government or whether means-testing would limit payments to those below certain income levels.
In addition, there's likely to be more business relief. Loans to small employers with 500 or fewer workers would help ailing small businesses get financing they need, with incentives and loan guarantees to keep their employees on staff. The airline industry looks likely to get loan or grant assistance, and some other hard-hit industries like cruise lines, hotels, and shopping malls could also get help.
However, lawmakers are still putting the final touches on those measures, so it's possible that other proposals could end up getting included. For instance, past versions pointed to a possible payroll tax holiday for workers and employers. Individual payments seem to have replaced that provision for now, but Congress could change its mind again.
Stay healthy and keep your eyes on Washington
Everyone's hoping that the COVID-19 pandemic won't turn out to be as bad as feared, but there's a lot of uncertainty right now. By putting the right policies in place to handle worst-case scenarios, lawmakers have the opportunity to remove a big source of anxiety for millions of people if they can get it right -- and potentially get stocks moving back in the right direction as well.