This morning, President Trump signed a a sweeping bill to combat the rising cases of COVID-19. The $8.3 billion bipartisan emergency package was introduced in Congress and passed in the House Wednesday, shortly followed by the Senate on Thursday, before landing on Trump’s desk Friday morning.
The measure will provide funding for federal public health agencies for virus testing and potential treatments, as well as funding to aid governments to prepare and respond to the threat.
“So, here we are — 8.3 billion,” Trump said after he signed the legislation. “We’re doing very well, but it’s an unforeseen problem — what a problem. Came out of nowhere, but we’re taking care of it.”
The bill was signed into action as data complied by Johns Hopkins University places the global coronavirus case total at over 100,000 and at least 3,383 deaths — the World Health Organization places those totals at 95,265 and 3281, respectively. Johns Hopkins also reported at least 233 cases within the United States, 14 of which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms has resulted in death. Twenty-four people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in New York State, four of them are in New York City, according to a March 6 update from Gov. Cuomo.
The spending package includes over $3 billion for research and development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics; $300 million to ensure access to affordable vaccines, $2.2 billion for prevention, preparedness and response; almost $1 billion for medical supplies, healthcare preparedness, community health centers and medical surge capacity; and $1.25 billion to address the coronavirus abroad.
Also included in the bill is a provision by Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), along with Nydia Velázquez (D-Manhattan) and Judy Chu (D-California) to allow small businesses that have suffered economic losses related to the outbreak to access Economic Injury Disaster Loans up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses.
Under the Small Business Relief From Communicable Disease Induced Economic Hardship Act of 2020, the Small Business Administration will provide about $7 billion in loans to help small businesses that have suffered financially as a result of the novel virus outbreak.
“It is critical that as we dedicate the resources needed to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, we do not forget about the many small businesses that have been negatively impacted,” Meng told the Chronicle. “Our hard-working small businesses drive our economy and enhance our communities; they are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods. We must assist them in their time of need so that they can continue to operate, and not further suffer from the downturn they have been forced to endure.”
Although state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) supports Meng’s efforts to help small businesses, she believes that the overall aid package is “totally inadequate.”
“Last night I had dinner in a large restaurant in Downtown Flushing with a colleague in government, and we were the only people in the restaurant. That to me sends a terrible messages,” Stavisky told the Chronicle. “Even though there are no cases in Flushing or Queens, the businesses are suffering.”
Stavisky said she met with state Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker on March 2 to discuss an additional plan similar to Meng’s — for the Empire State Development Corp. to provide loans as additional federal funding to small businesses. She said Zucker promised to get back to her on the subject, but she has not yet heard back.
“[The government has] to protect public health and the economy. … Everyone is suffering, not just Flushing ... but every Asian community,” said Stavisky.
Other provisions contained within the sweeping legislation allow seniors to access telemedicine services for treatment under Medicare, require the Trump administration to reimburse health accounts that were previously raided to pay for response and ensure that state and local governments are reimbursed for costs incurred while assisting the federal response.