Border congressional leaders praise $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package

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McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Congressional lawmakers representing the Southwest border region hailed Friday’s passage of a historic $2 trillion stimulus package to help with COVID-19.

“Congress has worked quickly to pass several measures to ensure we respond rapidly and effectively to those most impacted by this ongoing crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, a Democrat who represents South Texas. “After several days of negotiations, Democrats were able to ensure relief dollars and aid go into the pockets of working families, small business owners and our health care workforce.”

Members of the House on Friday passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which is the largest economic stimulus package in recent memory. The Senate on Wednesday night passed the legislation, which now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Trump has said he would sign the bill immediately.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is seen in his McAllen, Texas, office on March 18, 2020. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“This latest measure is proof that bipartisan legislating works,” said U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from South Texas who lives in McAllen. “During this time of stress and uncertainty, every American needs to know that their government is acting decisively to ensure workers and families have the resources they need today and throughout this unprecedented crisis. I am proud to support this historic piece of legislation, which will bring urgently needed relief to our community and every community across the country.”

Border lawmakers say these funds will especially help the border region, which could be hard hit economically as the U.S. border with Mexico remains closed to tourism and “unnecessary travel” and millions of people are out of work. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act stimulus package includes the following provisions:

  • $290 billion in immediate payments to American families, which include $1,200 per individual ($2,400 for two taxpayers filing jointly) plus $500 per child age 16 or younger with an income cap of $75,000 for an individual, $112,500 for a single head of household or $150,000 for a joint filer.
  • $260 billion in supplemental unemployment assistance. Workers who lose their jobs or have diminished jobs will have access to unemployment insurance benefits that will be equal to their regular state benefit based on their previous salary along with an additional $600 weekly payment to help cover more of their day-to-day living costs. Benefits may be paid immediately and are not subject to a seven-day waiting period. The enhanced COVID-19 unemployment insurance benefits will be paid through July 31, and unemployment benefits will be available for up to 39 weeks, an increase of 13 weeks.
  • $377 billion to provide assistance for small business owners. Immediate government-backed loans pf $10,000 will be available for businesses with less than 500 workers to meet payroll, rent, and other pressing expenses. If the loans are used for the intended purpose, the loan will be forgiven.
  • Nearly $200 billion for healthcare workers, hospitals and health research, including $100 billion for hospitals and $4.3 billion for the Centers for Disease Control.
  • $500 billion to help state and local governments and corporate America. The bill requires the appointment of an Inspector General and five-person panel to ensure that businesses focus the benefits on American workers and ensure these funds are not used for stock buybacks or bonuses for CEOs. The bill allocates $50 billion in assistance for passenger airlines and $8 billion for cargo airlines.
  • $25 billion for food assistance. This includes $25.1 billion for nutritional assistance for seniors, women, children, American Indians, and low-income families.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, called the measure a “compromise” and said his committee already is working on more measures to help those not covered in this latest legislation.

“I’ve never seen one single bill that does this. It is a huge amount but it’s very diff times that we are living in right now,” Cuellar told Border Report on Friday afternoon as he headed to catch a flight back to his hometown of Laredo.

Republican Will Hurd, whose district in West Texas includes the longest stretch of international border between Texas and Mexico, said, “the American people can and will survive this pandemic,” and the resources coming out of the relief package “ensure that’s the case.”

“The CARES Act will not end all suffering, but they will ensure those who are unemployed will have more resources to make it through this difficult situation, our health care centers and workers will have more support, small businesses will have opportunities to receive help from the government, researchers will have more funding to aid in the search for a cure or vaccine and it will provide a boost to our economy so, in due time, it can bounce-back,” Hurd said. “I’m counting on the American spirit. I’m counting on American ingenuity. You should too. We can, and we will make it through this.”

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso said she and fellow Democrats fought for some of the major components of the bill, including the unemployment benefits; marshal plan for the health system; small business rescue plan; increased direct payments to working Americans; state and local coronavirus expenditures fund; student loan relief; and government loan protection.

“Last week, Republicans put forward a non-starter, corporations-focused proposal,” Escobar said in a statement. “Today, thanks to Democrats’ relentless work, we continue to deliver critical legislation to protect the health and well-being of hard-working families in El Paso and across the country.

“I am proud to support this historic piece of legislation to protect the lives and livelihoods of El Pasoans during this health and economic crisis … Our families, businesses, students, veterans, and health care workers urgently need relief, and as their voice in Congress, I am determined to ensure they receive the coordinated and fully-funded government response they deserve.”

Visit BorderReport.com for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

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