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National Govt & Politics
In the fine print of the $2 trillion economic rescue package
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In the fine print of the $2 trillion economic rescue package

In the fine print of the $2 trillion economic rescue package

In the fine print of the $2 trillion economic rescue package

As Congress pushes ahead with a landmark economic stimulus plan to offset the negative impact of the Coronavirus, lawmakers not only put in provisions to funnel money to Americans and help businesses stay afloat, but also structured oversight for the billions in loans going to big businesses, and helped out a few specific players along the way.

First, if you want to read through the text of the bill as approved by the Senate on Wednesday night, you can find the 880 page bill here.

For those who want the short version, the table of contents for the bill gives you a good preview of what's to come.

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In the fine print of the $2 trillion economic rescue package

Now let's jump in and find a few interesting items in the bill.

+ 1. Restrictions aimed squarely at President Trump and his family. Section 4019 of the bill is titled, "Conflicts of Interest," and is intended to prohibit top government officials from benefiting in any way from the emergency aid being delivered in this bill. It lists the President, Vice President, member of Congress, top Executive Branch officials as people covered by this prohibition. But it goes further - adding, 'spouse, child, son-in-law, or daughter-in-law' as well. One GOP Senator pointed out the 'son-in-law' provision. "I wonder who that could be targeted towards," said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) in a mocking tone, referring to Jared Kushner, as Lankford said Democrats were wrong to pursue such provisions. "A lot of this fight that we've had over the last three days is because they were demanding that there was no way the President, or any member of his family could get any benefit from this loan program at all," Lankford said. Democrats won those provisions.

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In the fine print of the $2 trillion economic rescue package

+ 2. Temporary tax break for makers of hand sanitizer. With various alcohol producers switching over some of their production in recent weeks to make hand sanitizer, this bill also provides a temporary exception to the excise tax on the alcohol used to make hand sanitizer products. To an outsider, it shouldn't be any big deal for a liquor producer to shift into production of hand sanitizer, but in reality - it can have pretty big tax implications in how the federal government deals with the process. For example, after a company makes over 100,000 gallons of alcohol, the tax goes from $2.70 per gallon to over $13 per gallon. This provision on page 212 would allow those hand sanitizer products to be made without being hit by those higher taxes. Here was the social media appeal from one company in Maryland.

3. Special oversight for economic recovery spending. As part of provisions providing public insight into what companies get what kind of aid from the federal government, this bill sets up a special Inspector General inside the Treasury Department dealing with the 'Pandemic Recovery.' The internal watchdog would be charged with "audits and investigations of the making, purchase, management, and sale of loans, loan guarantees, and other investments made by the Secretary of the Treasury under any program established by the Secretary under this Act." There is also a new 'Congressional Oversight Commission,' with members appointed by various parts of the government, to oversee the operations of this economic recovery effort - all to guide against favoritism, and any questionable financial awards - much like there was with the Obama stimulus in 2009.

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In the fine print of the $2 trillion economic rescue package

4. Postal Service gets special loan help. Just like after the anthrax attacks following Nine Eleven, the U.S. Postal Service finds itself in a crunch with the Coronavirus. Not only are some employees getting sick, but mail volume is going down - and that's leading to an even bleaker financial outlook. The Coronavirus rescue bill does not give a blank check to the Postal Service, but instead allows it to borrow up to $10 billion from the U.S. Treasury. Page 607 of the bill specifically says the money can only be used to pay for operating expenses - and not any outstanding debt of the Postal Service. The bill also orders the Postal Service to prioritize the delivery of medical products related to the Coronavirus, and also gives the Postal Service the right to establish "temporary delivery points" during the outbreak, in order to shield employees from the virus.

5. Miscellaneous Provisions. Any reporter who has gone through Congressional spending bills starts to get a little excited when you get to the section labeled 'Miscellaneous Provisions' - and this bill does not disappoint. Starting on page 609, there is a laundry list of extra money sent to various government agencies to deal with the Coronavirus. Some, like money for food safety won't raise any eyebrows. But others were quickly getting the thumbs down from some GOP lawmakers who actually read their way through the details of the bill.

6. There is no Congressional Pay Raise. Let me say it again. There is no pay raise for members of the House and Senate, no matter what you read on Twitter or Facebook. The troublemakers on Twitter didn't take long in spreading fake news about the details of this bill, accusing lawmakers of voting themselves a pay raise. Let me be very clear - that did *not* happen in this bill. There is no reference to the underlying federal code which governs the pay of lawmakers (section 601(a) of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (2 U.S.C. 4501)).  Is there extra money for Congress in this bill? Yes, there is. The Senate gets $10 million, and the House gets $25 million. Where would that money go? It doesn't take too much imagination to come up with items like extra medical, safety, and security precautions for 435 members of the House. Expanded telework with laptops, servers, and more. Cleaning crews to deal with any outbreaks that might touch Congressional offices or the Capitol complex. And finally, even if lawmakers voted themselves a pay raise, they would not be allowed to get any extra money until the new Congress. That's not a law - that's in the Constitution.

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In the fine print of the $2 trillion economic rescue package

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  • More than 860,000 people worldwide -- including more than 189,000 people in the United States – have been infected with the new coronavirus, and the number of deaths from the outbreak continues to rise. Officials are attempting to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. as hospitals brace for unprecedented patient surges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking cases in the U.S. here. Live updates for Wednesday, April 1, continue below: Captain of embattled aircraft carrier requests Navy evacuation as coronavirus infects sailors Update 3:17 a.m. EDT April 1: In a letter dated March 30, U.S. Navy Capt. Brett Crozier requested the military evacuation of 90 percent of the 4,000-member crew aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, besieged by the novel coronavirus. Specifically, Crozier asked that the evacuees be moved into isolation on Guam, The Washington Post reported. “Decisive action is required. Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure,” Crozier wrote, adding, “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.” Read more here. China announces 1,367 asymptomatic coronavirus cases Update 3:03 a.m. EDT April 1: China’s National Health Commission confirmed on Wednesday it is monitoring a total of 1,367 asymptomatic novel coronavirus infections. According to the commission, 130 of those total cases were diagnosed on Tuesday, alone, while 302 were released from quarantine. To date, China has confirmed a total 82,294 cases nationwide, but it was not immediately clear if that figure includes the asymptomatic cases. Kroger announces $2-per-hour ‘hero bonus’ for employees on coronavirus front lines Update 2:44 a.m. EDT April 1: U.S. supermarket chain Kroger announced early Wednesday it will pay staff members still working amid the worsening novel coronavirus outbreak an additional $2-per-hour “hero bonus.” “Our associates have displayed the true actions of a hero, working tirelessly on the front lines to ensure everyone has access to affordable, fresh food and essentials during this national emergency,” Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement announcing the bonuses. The pay bump – benefitting all front-line grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center staff – applies to all hours worked between March 29 and April 18. UN Secretary-General: Coronavirus ‘attacking societies at their core’ Update 2:21 a.m. EDT April 1: Citing the “human crisis” created by the novel coronavirus pandemic, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the collective global response the “greatest test” since World War II. Guterres’ insights were published in a new report released Tuesday. “COVID-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations,” Guterres stated in the report, adding, “This human crisis demands coordinated, decisive, inclusive and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies – and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries. But this is much more than a health crisis. It is a human crisis. The coronavirus disease is attacking societies at their core.' Read the full report here. US coronavirus deaths hit 4,076, total cases top 189K Update 12:31 a.m. EDT April 1: By early Wednesday morning, the number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States neared 200,000 across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, there are at least 189,510 confirmed U.S. cases of the virus, which have resulted in at least 4,076 deaths. U.S. cases now outnumber those in any other nation by wide margins, including the 105,792 reported in Italy and the 95,923 confirmed in Spain. Of the confirmed U.S. deaths, 1,550 – or nearly half of the nationwide total – have occurred in New York, 267 in New Jersey and 259 in Michigan.  In terms of diagnosed cases, New York remains the hardest hit with at least 75,795 confirmed cases – or roughly four times the next-closest state – followed by New Jersey with 18,696 and Michigan with 7,615. Three other states have now confirmed at least 6,000 novel coronavirus cases each, including: • California: 6,932, including 150 deaths • Florida: 6,732, including 84 deaths • Massachusetts: 6,220, including 89 deaths Meanwhile, Illinois, Louisiana and Washington state each has confirmed at least 5,000 novel coronavirus infections; Pennsylvania and Georgia each has confirmed at least 4,000 cases; Texas and Connecticut each has confirmed at least 3,000 cases; and Colorado, Tennessee, Ohio and Indiana each has confirmed at least 2,000 cases. Click here to see CNN’s complete state-by-state breakdown.
  • A 'Stranger Things' star and her family have donated tens of thousands of meals to food banks amid the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Albuquerque Journal, 16-year-old actress Millie Bobby Brown took to Instagram on Friday to announce that she and her family had given 20,000 meals each to food banks in New Mexico, where the popular Netflix series had been scheduled to film its next season, and Atlanta, where the show had previously filmed. “While we stay home and do our part to flatten the curve, we must not forget those in need,” wrote Brown, who plays Eleven. “My thoughts are with the great people and crew from Santa Fe, NM whom we didn’t yet get to meet in our company move on ‘Stranger Things.’ In appreciation of this community, my family and I have donated 20,000 meals to The Food Depot, which will provide meals for those hungry in the Northern New Mexico service area.” Brown added: “Also, to all those in Atlanta who have embraced us, to the ST crew and their families, you’re in our thoughts. My family and I have donated 20,000 meals to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which will provide meals for those hungry in their service area.” >> See the post here Brown also urged her fans to “find enjoyment in the simple things” during social distancing.'Reflect on the impact of great people and then share the love with others,' she continued. “A special shout-out to those who have supported me, inspired and empowered me, whom I admire and just make me happy.” Several other celebrities, including Angelina Jolie, Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Kylie Jenner and Arnold Schwarzenegger, also have made large donations to organizations that are helping with coronavirus relief efforts. Read more here or here.
  • You may be seeing a lot of empty shelves at grocery chains and other stores. But a 17-year-old Georgia high schooler is bringing relief to stressed people across the country who can’t find cleaning and paper products. WSB-TV’s Wendy Corona learned he’s doing it all while self-isolating. Blake Rand is a skilled computer programmer. With his school closed because of coronavirus, he also has a lot of time on his hands. Recently, his mother came to him with a problem. “My mom needed supplies, as everybody else does, and she couldn’t really find any, so I just went online and just kept looking and looking everywhere and found some,” Rand said. When his grandmother, who has Parkinson’s and can’t leave the house, couldn’t find her supplies online, he was struck with an idea. “I just decided to help out the community and make a website,” Rand said. The website is called Coronafinds.com, and on it are the results of hours of online scouring Rand spends to locate hard-to-find, in-stock products like toilet paper. “It’s just a list of links that are updated daily, and it’ll pretty much just give you the item name, and if you want to purchase an item, you just go to link, and it takes you to a bigger retailer like Target or CVS, and then you can just purchase it there,” Rand said. He told Corona that the products can almost always be found on major retailer sites; you just have to sift through hundreds of choices. “Like a lot of people don’t look at like the Dollar General and those kind of stores, Boxed. I try to find, like, smaller stores, too, because those usually have a lot in stock,” Rand said. Needless to say, his family is doing pretty well on supplies. “I got enough. I’m not hoarding, though, but I have enough,” Rand said. Blake said he is looking in to automating Coronafinds.com. Also, in his spare time, he does security research to find vulnerabilities in sites like Apple and Snapchat.
  • At the beginning of the spread of the novel coronavirus in December 2019, we didn’t really have an idea of just how quickly the virus could spread. It was when COVID-19 was officially declared a global pandemic that the situation became very real for the entire world - especially those in countries where the virus had already spread far and wide and claimed hundreds of lives on a daily basis. So far, it’s become clear that obtaining as much data as possible is the best way to combat the virus, mainly by testing as many people as possible and ensuring we have the appropriate approach to deal with the numbers. Now, mapping the outbreak is the goal for many tech companies across the globe as we learn more about how and when COVID-19 spreads from person to person. WFXT found two companies that teamed up to show just how far and wide the Spring Break revelers in Florida spread out after congregating at a single beach during a national call for social distancing in early March. Mapping platform Tectonix teamed up with cell phone location data tracker X-mode to create a viral video that shows thousands leaving one Florida beach over Spring Break, fanning out across the country and potentially spreading the coronavirus. “Despite international news, no one seemed to be changing behavior based on what we saw at all, like nothing happened,” said Rob Gresham, Co-Founder of Tectonix. Together, both companies were able to “analyze secondary locations of anonymized mobile devices that were active at a single Ft. Lauderdale beach during Spring Break” and track them as the spread out across the country. Most of the more than 5,000 people in the sample size were headed to the Northeast. Co-Founders of Tectonix, Rob Gresham and Elliott Bradshaw say they hope to apply their mapping technology to other areas and industries impacted by the virus. “We’re looking to apply that technology not just to looking at how Spring Breakers spread coronavirus, but home logistics shipments are moving around the world and how airline trends are being impacted by this type of crisis,” said Bradshaw. Researchers at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Harvard have developed their own way to map the virus. Using crowdsourcing, https://www.covidnearyou.org/#!/ asks the public to report current symptoms in real time and be identified only by ZIP code. “There really is a lack of understanding of the true burden of this disease across our country, particularly with the limited amounts of testing being done,” said Kara Sewalk, one of the developers of COVID Near You. Sewalk says the goal is to help public health experts and government officials understand how many people are infected on a local, state and federal level. “It’s not meant to replace surveillance of COVID or any other type of illness, but rather to augment existing surveillance systems to supplement the information that we’re collecting across the U.S.,” said Sewalk.
  • When Rocky Friedman of Port Townsend, Washington gathered with his sisters last year to plan for their mother’s 100th birthday celebration March 31, she serendipitously sent a one-sentence email. “Don’t forget to invite Amal and George Clooney.” Friedman said his mother, Miriam, “lives on her own, walks for exercise, reads voraciously, can tell you far more about professional sports than her son will ever know, and rocks my world with her unconditional love.” Friedman, who owns the historic Rose Theatre in Port Townsend, wondered what was possible. He shared the story Tuesday in an email to Rose Theatre supporters “because in the challenging times that we live, I think it will make you smile, and we all need that.” Through a little research and four intermediaries, Friedman was encouraged to write to Clooney with his request. “I asked if he would please consider writing a short congratulatory note to my mom on reaching this milestone. I emphasized - with less than subtlety - that at nearly 100 she was very likely his oldest fan. How could he refuse?” He didn’t. “Dear Miriam,” Clooney wrote. “They tell me you’re 100! I don’t believe it. Here’s hoping you have a fantastic birthday.” Friedman shared a photo of his mother with the signed photo on her birthday. “When I received the photograph from him that my mom is holding, and read the personal inscription, I couldn’t stop smiling. As my daughter said, ‘In the midst of the coronavirus, George Clooney comes through.’” “Thank you, George.” For more information on the Rose Theatre & Starlight Room, follow this link.
  • Billions of dollars are set to flood into the United States as the coronavirus stimulus plan means checks will soon arrive for most Americans. All that money could mean Christmas for crooks looking to steal your cash. One former FBI agent is looking to protect your stimulus check and bank account It’s the largest stimulus package in American history. Roughly 80% of Americans will see hundreds or thousands of dollars sent their way. “There’s a small segment of our society thinking, ‘How can I scam my way into this and take other people’s money,’” said former FBI Special Agent Michael Tabman. Tabman knows bad actors are now hard at work. “Despite all my years working scams and frauds, someone is coming up with a plan where I will say, ‘gee, I didn’t see that coming,’” Tabman said. Unfortunately, crisis is an opportunity for crooks, and plenty of people are struggling now. “People are worried about their physical well-being as well as their financial well-being,” Tabman said. As a former FBI special agent in charge, this is something Tabman has seen before, back in 2008 when President George W. Bush signed the last package. Crooks and scam artists were on the attack back then too. Technology has come a long way since then and in many ways its actually gotten easier. “A scam we saw under Bush, we saw this come up often, ‘for a small fee we are going to find out what [the amount of] your check is going to be,’” Tabman recounted. Then, like now, crooks will call to try and lure you in, looking to move in on your money online. “The sad reality is though, if you are caught up in one of these scams, the FBI is not going to be able to help you,” Tabman said. “They are going to take notes and statistics, but that money is gone.” Here’s some guidance from attorneys general from across the country: The federal government will not ask you to confirm personal or banking info by email, phone or text or demand a procession fee to expedite your stimulus payment. Do not click on links in email or text messages related to stimulus checks and do not provide your personal information.