Coronavirus Updates: Trump Signs Relief Bill NPR politics and science correspondents round up the latest news in the federal response to the coronavirus epidemic in the United States, including of the passage of the emergency rescue bill.
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Coronavirus Updates: Trump Signs Relief Bill

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Coronavirus Updates: Trump Signs Relief Bill

Coronavirus Updates: Trump Signs Relief Bill

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The nation's 15 days of social distancing are nearly over. And while many states have issued stay-at-home orders for much longer periods of time, new guidance from the White House coronavirus task force is due soon.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Meanwhile, $2 trillion in economic recovery has made it through Congress, and now the president has signed the bill into law.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This will deliver urgently needed relief to our nation's families, workers and businesses. And that's what this is all about.

SHAPIRO: What's in it? - cash payments for most Americans, a massive expansion of unemployment insurance, $377 billion to help small businesses stay afloat and much more. All of this because of the unprecedented economic shutdown necessary to hopefully bring the coronavirus pandemic under control in the U.S.

CHANG: Let's bring in NPR science correspondent Richard Harris, White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez and congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell.

Hey to all three of you.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hello.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right, Kelsey, I want to start with you. Lawmakers are calling this legislation, this - a rescue bill for the economy. Can you just tell us what's in it?

SNELL: Yeah, so there are those cash payments. They come to, at the most, $1,200 per person for people earning $75,000 or less - a major expansion to unemployment insurance and that $377 billion for small business. Plus, there's also $500 billion for big corporations in an attempt to keep businesses open and keep employees connected to their employers so they have jobs to return to when it's safe to reopen businesses. This was passed today by voice vote over in the House after more than four hours of debate, where even members who said they had concerns with the bill mostly backed it. This is how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: We are all a family. And like many families, we have our differences. But we also know what is important to us.

SNELL: Basically, she was saying the thing that was important was getting the relief out to people. And part of the way she got Democrats onboard with this, even with that big pot of money for corporations, was that the loans come with some strings attached, like an independent inspector general and a board to oversee the terms of the loan and a ban on stock buybacks. And there are also some added things in there - a bailout for state and local governments, and, very importantly, there's a $100 billion for hospitals plus more money for the CDC, supplies, training and testing.

CHANG: And how quickly can families and business owners expect to have access to all these new programs?

SNELL: Well, if the IRS has your bank information on file, you can get a direct deposit in about three weeks. Checks will take a little bit longer, and the loans to small businesses could happen really quickly because Treasury has given temporary authority to some lenders to make those loans to businesses. But by and large, this is really up to the Trump administration to make sure that it's executed smoothly and quickly.

CHANG: All right. Well, with that, let's turn to Franco. You know, in addition to signing this bill into law today, President Trump did something that he has been reluctant to do for quite some time. And that is he officially invoked the Defense Production Act that was to compel GM to make more ventilators. This has been something that he's been reluctant to do for so long. What was the tipping point here?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. The president said GM was wasting time still trying to negotiate with the federal government but that the need was too urgent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We thought we had a deal for 40,000 ventilators. And all of a sudden, it became six, and then price became a big object.

ORDOÑEZ: Trump said he hopes that GM will now change their tune. But he also said he might pull the order for GM, which he didn't really explain what he meant there. But this is really significant because President Trump has been, as you say, very reluctant to invoke the Defense Production Act. He said he didn't want to nationalize U.S. industry. He pointed to Venezuela. But President Trump now says they'll be making or getting 100,000 additional ventilators in the next a hundred days. That's a tremendous amount. And he says they'll have enough not only for domestic needs but also to help some other nations who are desperate for ventilators.

CHANG: Now, Richard, I mean, we have been hearing a lot about shortages, not just a ventilators but shortage of masks and other personal protective equipment, especially in hard-hit cities like New York. Do we have a sense of how widespread these equipment shortages are?

HARRIS: Well, the concern is certainly widespread, even in places that aren't hard-hit with the coronavirus. Today the U.S. Conference of Mayors released results of a survey it conducted of more than 200 cities. And, you know, more than 90% said they don't have enough masks for their first responders, like fire, police and ambulance crews.

CHANG: Wow.

HARRIS: Also, 92% said they don't have enough test kits. Eighty-five percent said their hospitals don't have an adequate supply ventilators, and most said they're getting - the help they're getting from their states is not enough, so few cities really feel prepared to be hit - whatever is going to hit them.

CHANG: Yeah. And meanwhile, Franco, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo - he's been accusing President Trump of basing decisions on emotion and misplaced hope instead of hard data. What has President Trump in saying in response to that?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. President Trump is definitely pushing back. He said, at first, that the governor in New York didn't need these ventilators. But now he is saying he's going to get these ventilators, and he's going to have more than necessary. He was really pushed on this point today. But I would like to add that it's not just New York. As Richard is saying, many states across the U.S. are scrambling to buy ventilators and to get supplies because they're seeing their own numbers rise. And - but as we noted earlier, the president is taking more significant steps.

CHANG: And, Kelsey, as states and cities have been waiting for the federal government to supply them with more supplies, businesses are just sort of switching gears on their own to help fill this void, this need for emergency equipment. And, of course, there's this economic relief package. But do lawmakers think that this bill will be enough to bring the economy back in line or, at least, like, set it on a path to recovery?

SNELL: No, they really don't. Most lawmakers say they know that they're going to need to do more but that this is a rescue effort that needs to be done right away. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she wants the next bill to include more protections for workers who stay on the job, additional food security benefits, more money for state and local government and, possibly, more of those cash payments we were talking about. A lot of Republicans agree that more needs to be done, but a lot of their focus has been on the need for additional protective equipment and funding from Congress for - potentially for ventilators.

CHANG: And finally, Richard, President Trump said today that he would be meeting Monday or Tuesday with the coronavirus task force to decide on the next steps to take as the 15-day plan ends. I'm curious. Will states have to follow those recommendations?

HARRIS: No. Actually, states and local governments can make their own calls. And - but many have been looking to the federal government for guidance. You know, but they don't necessarily move in lockstep at all. And many states are doing their own analysis. I spoke today with an epidemiologist in Texas, Lauren Ancel Meyers, who told me that her state is relying heavily on what local scientists like her are saying.

And, you know, this tension about what to do sometimes gets framed as a balance between saving lives versus having an economic collapse. But, in fact, she says a lot of what's driving decisions is the concern that the medical system will simply collapse if it gets overwhelmed with cases. Myers told me that would be catastrophic and would happen very fast, so states are really thinking about - hard about how to avoid that.

CHANG: That is NPR science correspondent Richard Harris, White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez and congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell.

Thank you to all three of you.

SNELL: Thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

HARRIS: Thank you.

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