Round three of COVID-19 disaster aid passed the Senate with a unanimous vote early Thursday morning March 26.
The $2.1 trillion bill heads next to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled she would push to have it approved as is. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has said he will sign it as soon as he receives it.
The House is likely to take the bill up on Friday House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told media.
The package is by far the nation’s largest disaster aid package to date, but preliminary data on the economy suggests it may not be enough to keep the economy out of recession, according to research by financial experts.
The finalized package no longer includes green tax measures that some Democrats had wanted, nor money to buy oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserves that some Republicans had wanted.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the CARES Act will help a broad swath of American citizens with the unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as help stabilize many economic sectors.
“This legislation provides resources for health care professionals as they work to address the public health crisis. At the same time, it includes vital assistance to help deal with the economic impacts by providing relief to American families, small businesses and industries essential to our economy. As the chair of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee, I also worked to provide USDA with resources to support our farmers and ranchers through this tough stretch.”
In addition, the bill includes about $25 billion for agriculture priorities, and $145 million that will help with rural priorities, such as supporting broadband and telecommunication for distance learning and telemedicine and loans to small businesses that may not otherwise be able to obtain a loan on their own during the crisis.
Montana’s Republican Senator Steve Daines said the bill contains more than $1 billion in aid for his state.
“It’s good to see the United States Senate pass a piece of legislation, this recovery package, with strong bipartisan vote. It’s going to bring relief to workers, working families and small business across Montana.” Daines said. “I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with countless Montanans over the course of the last several days hearing about the challenges they face as a result of the coronavirus. Tribal leaders, hospital leaders, manufacturers, ski resorts, ag leaders, travel and hospitality leaders across our state and everybody who’s being affected by this. There’s a lot of concern. We’re going to get through this as Montanans. We’re independent. We’re tough.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. said the bill will provide immediate help where it’s needed most.
“Our bipartisan plan bolsters the economy, protects American workers and families, assists small businesses, and increases funding for health care facilities and life-saving medical equipment as we work toward a cure for this virus. The best way to end the economic uncertainty caused by COVID—19 is to combat the pandemic itself. I urge the House to pass this package right away and send it to President Trump’s desk. The American people have waited long enough.”
Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester meanwhile said the bill initially didn’t include relief for Indian Country’s response to COVID-19, and that was something he pushed to include in this round of aid.
“This bill isn’t perfect, but it will help provide the most urgently needed relief for workers, small businesses, hospitals, and Tribal governments in Indian Country—home to an at-risk population and lacking the medical infrastructure and supplies to help folks who need it most,” Tester said. “The original bill would have left our Native American communities out in the cold at a time when relief cannot wait another minute. I’ll keep fighting to ensure Indian Country has the tools they need to effectively combat this crisis.”
Many farm groups also praised the bill.
North Dakota Stockmen’s Association President Dan Rorvig said the nation’s food security is a critical element in overcoming the COVID-19 challenge.
“American cattle ranchers are vitally important in ensuring safe, wholesome food for this country and our world,” he said. “Amidst this crisis, we are very grateful for the senator’s hard work and for the CARES package that helps address some of the uncertainty and the incredible losses suffered by those who put food on the world’s table.”
Markets have been in freefall mode, Independent Beef Association of North Dakota President Dwight Keller said. Live cattle prices have dropped $30 per hundredweight during the COVID-19 crisis, despite strong beef demand at grocery stores.
“North Dakota ranchers continue to provide a safe and plentiful supply of food for our country,” he said. “We are thankful for the efforts of Sen. Hoeven to provide needed relief to help our industry weather these challenges. We are confident the senator is aware that this is a short-term remedy to a lont-term problem and we thank him for his ongoing help and support of North Dakota livestock ranchers.”
North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Warne, also praised the legislation, but called for an investigation into price-fixing.
“We also need the Department of Justice to investigate price fixing by meatpackers, and why live cattle prices are falling when boxed beef prices are climbing. Market manipulation can’t go unchecked," Warne said. "We’re particularly grateful to Sen. Hoeven’s responsiveness to our concerns and for leading efforts to secure critical funding to support our producers.”
Funding to replenish the CCC was a critical element of the aid package, North Dakota Soybean Growers Association President Joe Ericson said.
“We want to thank Sen. Hoeven for his work to fund the CCC, a vital tool to help meet the challenges of COVID-19, trade disruptions and others. It is important to ensure USDA can use the resources provided by the CCC to help producers during this difficult time.”