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What’s in the $2 trillion stimulus package



CNN reporters are reading through the draft legislation. Here’s a running list of highlights:

Under the plan as it was being negotiated, single Americans would receive $1,200, married couples would get $2,400 and parents would see $500 for each child under age 17.

However, the payments would start to phase out for individuals with adjusted gross incomes of more than $75,000, and those making more than $99,000 would not qualify at all. The thresholds are doubled for couples.

— Katie Lobosco and Tami Luhby

Student loan payments suspended

The Department of Education would suspend payments on student loan borrowers without penalty through September 30, according to the bill.

CNN reported last week that the Department of Education was planning to allow student loan borrowers to suspend payments without penalty and accruing interest for at least 60 days.

— Zachary Cohen and Katie Lobosco

REAL ID deadline delayed

The deadline to obtain a REAL ID, federally mandated identification that will be needed for passengers to board aircraft, will be extended until at least September 2021 — a year past the current deadline, according to a draft version of the Senate stimulus bill obtained by CNN.

Before the coronavirus pandemic swept across the US, states were preparing to issue residents “REAL ID-compliant” driver’s licenses or identification by the October 1 deadline.

— Geneva Sands

Historic boost for unemployment benefits

In an unprecedented expansion of unemployment insurance, the federal government would give jobless workers an extra $600 a week for four months on top of their state benefits, which range from $200 to $550 a week, on average, depending on the state.

In addition, lawmakers want to add up to 13 weeks of extended benefits, which would be fully covered by the federal government. Currently, state unemployment checks last up to between 12 weeks and 28 weeks, depending on the state.

Stimulus bill offers $600 a week to the unemployed for 4 months, drawing Republican objections

Plus, the deal calls for a new pandemic unemployment assistance program, which would provide jobless benefits to those who are unemployed, partially unemployed or unable to work because of the virus and don’t qualify for traditional benefits. This includes independent contractors and the self-employed, who typically don’t qualify for such assistance, and to gig economy workers, who aren’t eligible in many states. These benefits would mirror what’s available in an individual’s state.

— Tami Luhby

$500 billion lending program

The Treasury Department can provide $500 billion in loans, loan guarantees and investments.

That specifically includes $25 billion for passenger air carriers, $4 billion for cargo air carriers and $17 billion for businesses that work in national security. The rest of the funds, $454 billion, are given wide latitude to provide loans to businesses, states and municipalities.

The measure includes restrictions on businesses who receive the loans. Those businesses may not issue dividends for up to a year after the loan is no longer outstanding, and must retain 90% of employment levels as of March 24, “to the extent practicable,” through September 30. The loans also cannot last longer than five years.

There’s a specific provision in the program for direct loans to mid-sized businesses, defined as between 500 and 10,000 employees, as well as non-profit organizations, where no payments will be due for the first six months after the loan is issued.

A congressional oversight commission will monitor how the money is spent.

— Jeremy Herb

Trump businesses can’t get money

The legislation prohibits federally elected officials and their immediate relatives from obtaining funds from the $500 billion program.

Businesses that are owned or partly owned by “the President, the Vice President, the head of an Executive department, or a Member of Congress; and the spouse, child, son-in-law, or daughter-in-law” will be barred. The provision applies to anyone with 20% or greater stake in a business.

Senate stimulus deal includes individual checks -- but don't expect the money until at least May

This was a key provision for Democrats concerned that Trump would provide funds to his personal businesses in the stimulus package.

— Jeremy Herb

No money for border wall

The Defense Department will get $1.2 billion for the National Guard’s coronavirus response. Over 10,000 National Guard members to date have been activated.

An additional $1 billion is available for Defense Purchases Act purchases.

Notably, while the Pentagon will be allowed to transfer the money to other “applicable” accounts, it prohibits transferring the money to the counter-drug account, an account which has been used to fund Trump’s border wall.

— Ryan Browne

Airlines and airports get what they wanted

The package includes $32 billion in grants for wages and benefits to the decimated airline industry.

That includes $25 billion for passenger airlines, $4 billion for cargo airlines, and $3 billion for industry contractors, such as those who handle catering, baggage, ticketing, and aircraft cleaning.

In addition, another $25 billion for passenger airlines and $4 billion for cargo airlines will be available in the form of loans or loan guarantees.

Companies that receive the assistance are barred from making furloughs, pay cuts, or stock buybacks, and from issuing dividends to investors, through September. It also institutes limits on executive compensation.

Airlines may also be required to operate routes they would otherwise like to cancel because of low ridership or profitability. Under the bill, the Transportation Department can require air carriers continue service on routes, particularly for the “needs of small and remote communities and the need to maintain well-functioning health care and pharmaceutical supply chains, including for medical devices and supplies.”

— Greg Wallace

Hospitals get billions

The stimulus package would provide about $117 billion for hospitals, according to an estimate from the American Hospital Association, which called it an important first step.

The bill creates a $100 billion public health and social emergency fund to reimburse providers for expenses and lost revenues related to the coronavirus pandemic. About $65 billion will go to hospitals, with the rest funneled to doctors, nurses, suppliers and others, the association said.

The legislation also boosts reimbursements by 20% for treating Medicare patients with coronavirus. And it eliminates $8 billion in scheduled payment reductions to hospitals caring for large numbers of uninsured and Medicaid patients, as well as temporarily removing a 2% cut for treating Medicare patients, which was part of the automatic budget cuts under sequestration.

The American Hospital Association, along with the American Medical Association and American Nurses Association, had asked Congress to provide $100 billion for health care personnel and providers to address the outbreak.

–Tami Luhby

Contractors and ‘gig’ workers

Independent contractors and so-called gig workers will be eligible to receive federal aid. The language could provide additional certainty to millions of part-time workers who drive for Uber or deliver for Amazon, in what has become a major part of the digital economy.

The provisions are responsive to requests by tech execs including Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who this week wrote to Trump asking for economic support for Uber drivers.

Stimulus bill includes $100M arts funding despite past Trump attempts to cut it

“My goal in writing to you is not to ask for a bailout for Uber, but rather for support for independent contractors and, once we move past the immediate crisis, the opportunity to legally provide them with a real safety net going forward,” Khosrowshahi wrote.

Gig economy businesses such as Uber have battled fiercely at the state level, especially in California, to avoid having to classify their drivers as employees who would be eligible for corporate benefits.

— Richard Davis

Protections against foreclosures and evictions

The bill includes housing protections against foreclosures on mortgages and evictions for renters.

The bill states that anyone facing a financial hardship from coronavirus shall be given a forbearance on a federally backed mortgage loan of up to 60 days, which can be extended for four periods of 30 days each. The legislation says that servicers of federally backed mortgage loans may not begin the foreclosure process for 60 days from March 18.

The bill also does not allow fees, penalties or additional interest to be charged as a result of delayed payments. It includes similar protections for those with multifamily federal mortgage loans, allowing them to receive a 30-day forbearance and up to two 30-day extensions.

Those with federally backed mortgage loans who have tenants would also not be allowed to evict tenants solely for failure to pay rent for a 120-day period, and they may not charge fees or penalties to tenants for failing to pay rent.

— Jeremy Herb

$25 million for the Kennedy Center

The bill contains $25 million to support the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

A Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations said the funding has bipartisan support.

“This is a federal agency that is funded by a mixture of appropriations and ticket revenues. They’ve had to cancel all their performances, so they have no revenue and have already laid off nearly 800 people. If they don’t get a cash infusion, they will become insolvent and could be unable to reopen,” the aide said.

Stimulus bill includes $100M arts funding despite past Trump attempts to cut it

The Kennedy Center closed on March 17 and does not plan to reopen until at least May 10.

The stimulus package also includes $75 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal program that Trump has tried to cut from his budget proposals for the past four years and that in a Republican-led Congress already has seen its budget dwindle by several million dollars.

— Kate Bennett

More funding for food assistance

The bill provides $450 million for The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which supplies food banks, which are expected to see more clients as job losses mount. Some $350 million would buy additional food, and $100 million would be used for distribution.

The package also provides $200 million for food assistance for Puerto Rico and other US territories, as well as $100 million for food distribution on American Indian reservations.

While it appears that the bill provides billions in additional funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and Child Nutrition Program, it would not expand eligibility or benefits.

— Tami Luhby

Evacuations of Americans

The bill includes $324 million for the State Department, as well as money specifically for “evacuation expenses,” according to a draft obtained by CNN. The proposed legislation doesn’t specify who would be evacuated, whether it’s US diplomats or American citizens living overseas, or potentially both.

A senior State Department official said that 9,300 Americans had already been repatriated. A different senior State Department official said the government was tracking 13,500 Americans seeking assistance abroad.

— Marshall Cohen and Jennifer Hansler

Peace Corps, diplomatic programs and refugees

The bill includes $88 million for the Peace Corps, an independent US government agency that sends American volunteers abroad. The organization suspended all operations last week and evacuated its volunteers. Its director said operations will return to normal “when conditions permit.”

In addition, the measure provides an additional $324 million for diplomatic programs, $258 million for international disaster assistance, $350 million for migration and refugee assistance and $95 million for USAID operating expenses.

It also authorizes the agencies to administer oaths of office remotely, but they must submit a report to the relevant committees “describing the process and procedures for administering such oaths, including appropriate verification.”

— Marshall Cohen and Jennifer Hansler

This story is breaking and will be updated.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the amount of Treasury Department aid to $500 billion.



Speech #5: Why AIPAC is bad for U.S. Politics



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Congo president’s chief of staff arrested amid graft probe



Vital Kamerhe, the chief of staff to the president of Congo, was arrested on Wednesday after testifying in an investigation into the alleged misappropriation of public funds, police said.

Kamerhe’s arrest was a blow to President Felix Tshisekedi, who took power in January last year after campaigning on promises to clean up corruption, which watchdog groups said flourished under his long-serving predecessor, Joseph Kabila.

Tshisekedi’s spokesman, Kasongo Mwema, said he had no comment. “The president does not comment on the decisions of the justice system,” he said.

The arrest followed hours of testimony at the public prosecutor’s office. Outside, police used tear gas to disperse a large group of Kamerhe’s supporters and enforce a ban on meetings of more than 20 people in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

His supporters also protested in his hometown, Bukavu, in eastern Congo, where about 300 of them burned tires and blocked the road outside his party headquarters.

After the testimony, Kamerhe was driven by police to the Makala prison, Sylvano Kasongo, the police chief of the capital, Kinshasa, told Reuters.

It was not immediately clear how long Kamerhe would be held or whether he would be charged with a crime. Reuters was not immediately able to contact his lawyer. Kamerhe has denied all allegations of impropriety.

Tshisekedi has touted his efforts to root out endemic corruption in Congo, but activists have criticized his government’s spending on a $304-million public works program as lacking transparency.

Kamerhe, in particular, has faced scrutiny for his role in the spending on roads, bridges and social housing.

Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, right, attends a memorial service with Kamerhe, seated, on Feb. 1, 2018 in Kinshasa. Both Tshisekedi and Kamerhe have faced criticism over the government’s spending. (Junior D. Kannah/AFP/Getty Images)

Kamerhe’s Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) party joined forces with Tshesekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) in the run-up to the December 2018 election. Tshisekedi promised to back the UNC’s candidate in the next election in 2023.

The arrest could cause the collapse of the coalition, but that may have already been in the cards, said Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University.

“The coalition was important ahead of the elections, but ever since he was inaugurated, there have been people around Tshisekedi pushing him to get rid of Vital,” Stearns said.


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Stock futures point to modest losses after Wednesday’s rally



Stock futures were little changed in overnight trading, pointing to a relatively flat open on Thursday. The Dow was set to gain 13 points, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq-100 were slated to open 0.04% and 0.31% lower, respectively. 

Stocks surged on Wednesday, with the major averages spending the entire session in the green, fueled in part by Sen. Bernie Sanders dropping out of the presidential race, as well as hopes that the coronavirus outbreak may soon turn a corner.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 779.71 points, or 3.4%, to close at 23,433.57. It was the first time the 30-stock index closed above since 23,000 since March 13. The S&P 500 climbed 3.4% to 2,749.98 while the Nasdaq Composite advanced 2.6% to 8,090.90.

Raymond James’ Washington policy strategist Ed Mills told CNBC that Sen. Sanders dropping out of the presidential race “removes the tail risk of some of his policies.” The health care sector, which Sanders had vowed to take on, advanced with the XLV, which tracks the sector, gaining more than 4%.

Some of the sectors that have been hit the hardest since the pandemic began — such as airlines, casinos and cruise lines — also led markets higher.

Stocks closed slightly lower on Tuesday, but jumped on Monday, bringing the Dow’s week-to-date gain to 11.3%. The S&P 500, meanwhile, has bounced 10.5% this week.

But some believe that stocks are now getting ahead of themselves and investors should exercise caution. 

“I think this is kind of buy the rumor and potentially we sell the news when reality sets in of what we are going to see what’s on the other side,” billionaire investor Mark Cuban said Wednesday on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” “I think people are naturally optimistic right now in terms of the market. I just don’t think they’re really factoring in what we’re going to see on the other side,” he added.

After Wednesday’s rally, the Dow is up 29% from its low and the Nasdaq Composite is down less than 10% this year.

“The stock market is at a very uncertain point now. The impact of the coronavirus on future earnings is yet to be determined. We aren’t out of the woods,” said Quadratic Capital chief investment officer Nancy Davis.

On Thursday the Street will be watching weekly jobless claims, which will be released at 8:30am ET. Economists are expecting an increase of 5 million, which would build on the record-shattering prior two readings of 6.6 million and 3.3 million.

Economists forecast that the unemployment rate will jump into the teens this month, from March’s 4.4% level and the 3.5% it was at in February.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is also set to speak on Thursday. His remarks follow the release of the minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s emergency meeting in March, which is when the central bank slashed interest rates to near zero.

The minutes revealed that the Fed is prepared to keep rates near zero until the economy has “weathered” the coronavirus impact. 

“With regard to monetary policy beyond this meeting, these participants judged that it would be appropriate to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to ¼ percent until policymakers were confident that the economy had weathered recent events and was on track to achieve the Committee’s maximum employment and price stability goals,” the statement said.

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