The White House is seeking a $1 trillion aid package that includes $500 billion in direct payments to Americans and $300 billion in loans to small businesses impacted by the coronavirus outbreak to help them make payroll payments.
The $500 billion, once approved, is expected to be distributed via two $250 billion buckets in direct payments to Americans, one on April 6 and the other on May 18. The plan is also expected to include limits based on income and household size.
At a press briefing Wednesday morning, President Trump declined to detail specifics of the plan, but he also didn’t correct speculation regarding the dollar amounts, which include $50 billion in secured loans to the airline industry and $150 billion for secured loans for other sectors. The New York Times received a copy of the plan, noting the proposed amounts. The plan is still being worked on by lawmakers.
Separately, the Senate on Wednesday afternoon voted on the House bill that was sent to the Senate Friday night. The bill, which Trump signed later Wednesday, calls for a multi-billion emergency aid package providing, among other things, paid sick leave and a guarantee of free coronavirus testing for anyone who needs it.
“As soon as this is solved, there will be a comeback and we will win,” Trump said, again focusing on the economy and how the public health crisis needs to be fought first.
“There is great bipartisan effort going on that I haven’t seen before this,” Trump added.
Calling himself a “war-time president,” Trump on Wednesday also invoked the Defense Production Act to speed up the industrial production of equipment such as hospital masks to send to the front line for healthcare workers. “FEMA has been activated in all regions,” he also said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In addition, Trump agreed to dispatch naval floating hospitals, including the USNS Comfort based in New York harbor and the USNS Mercy on the West Coast, although the exact location hasn’t been determined yet. Both are understood to be undergoing maintenance before they can be prepped for deployment.
At the press briefing, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the floating hospitals still need to be staffed. “The big challenge [is] the medial professionals. All of those doctors and nurses either come from our medical treatment facilities or they come from the reserves, which means civilians,” Esper said.
Earlier in the day, by mutual discussion with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the U.S. and Canada agreed to close their border to non-essential traffic, preserving for now the trade and supply chain link between the two countries. The temporary restriction is expected to last for 30 days. Trump is also considering tightening up access at the southern border between Mexico and the U.S.
Addressing the ongoing tariff war, Trump said China so far has not asked to suspend the Phase One trade deal negotiated and inked in January, shortly before an exploding coronavirus outbreak coincided with the start of the Chinese New Year.
Shortly before Trump’s press briefing, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the need to reduce density, increase hospital capacity by 50,000, and identify new hospital beds. All three goals need to be done “simultaneously,” he added.
That’s a tall order considering the governor said 100,000 beds could be needed “in five days.”
“This is New York. There’s nothing that we can’t do,” Cuomo said, adding that “federal partnership is key.”
Cuomo also said that he and Trump are on the same page about what needs to be done, such as deploying the USNS Comfort, which the New York governor said has the capacity for 1,000 beds. The state is also looking into mobile hospitals, which offer about a 100-250 bed capacity.
The governor said he is imposing mandatory state-wide restrictions requiring businesses to have no more than 50 percent of their workforce reporting to work outside of their home, with exceptions for essential services such as food and food deliveries, pharmacies, shipping and healthcare.
Cuomo said that Pennsylvania has joined the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut state coalition to restrict bars and restaurants to just takeout and delivery service, as well as to shut down public venues including casinos, gyms, and movie theaters where large groups can gather.
While New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday said a shelter-in-place directive might be ordered within the next 48 hours, Cuomo Wednesday morning shot down that idea. He said the city can’t quarantine itself without state approval. “And I have no interest whatsoever and no plan whatsoever to quarantine any city,” Cuomo said.
Elsewhere in Northern California, a shelter-in-place order impacts about seven million residents along the San Francisco Bay area, including San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Marin, Alameda and the Contra Costa counties. People are banned from congregating, but are permitted to seek health services and shop at grocery stores.