The Senate unanimously approved a historic $2.2 trillion emergency relief package late Wednesday night to battle the unprecedented economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic. The House will consider the bill Friday before it goes to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law. The bill would massively expand unemployment benefits, providing laid-off workers up to 100% of their salary and health insurance benefits for four months. Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders successfully fought to strengthen the bill’s assistance to laid-off workers, and voted “yes” even as he warned about the bill’s corporate bailout fund. “We do not need, at this moment in history, to provide a massive amount of corporate welfare to large profitable corporations,” Sanders said in a video explaining his vote.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. In a historic vote just before midnight, the Senate unanimously approved a record-shattering $2.2 trillion emergency relief bill to battle the unprecedented economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic. The House is set to vote on the bill on Friday. President Trump promises to sign it immediately. In a live-streamed legislative update Wednesday night, Vermont senator, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke about who the bill will help.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: This package provides the largest expansion of unemployment benefits in American history, an increase of over $250 billion. Under this bill, average Americans who have been furloughed will be able to receive up to 100% of their salary and their health insurance for four months, for four months. Weekly unemployment benefits will increase by $600. So, if you were laid off, your unemployment benefit will increase by $600 above what it otherwise would have been. And right now the average benefit is about $364 for workers.
Now, also, very importantly, this expansion of unemployment will include part-time workers. It will include gig workers, like those who drive Uber cars. It will include tip workers and the self-employed, who would otherwise not be covered by unemployment insurance. So, in other words, what we’re doing now is, at a time when fewer than half of the American people would normally be covered by unemployment, what this legislation does is it expands it to the overall workforce and, on top of that, for many workers, would provide $600 a week more than they otherwise would have gotten. And that is one of the more important provisions in the bill.
In addition, this bill provides $250 billion to go out in one-time checks of $1,200 for adults and $500 for kids. Now, let me be very honest. As some of you may know, I wanted much more. I wanted every American family to be able to receive $2,000 every single month that we continue to exist within the crisis. So this does not do that. And this is clearly not enough to me, but that is what it is.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders speaking Wednesday night about the unprecedented $2.2 trillion emergency relief bill. The legislation would also provide $150 billion in direct aid to states and municipalities, more than $220 billion in tax benefits to companies, almost $120 billion in aid to hospitals and for veterans’ healthcare, and a half-a-trillion-dollar fund to provide loans and loan guarantees for corporations. Senator Sanders and other progressive critics are sounding the alarm over the corporate bailout portion of the bill and its limited oversight measures.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I am very, very, very concerned about a $500 billion that will go out to the corporate world without — let me underline, without — the accountability and transparency that is needed. We do not need, at this moment in history, to provide a massive amount of corporate welfare to large profitable corporations. I think as many of you are aware, you have industry like the — industries like the airlines industry, among others, that have provided for stock buybacks, billions and billions of dollars for stock buybacks. They spent all their cash rewarding themselves and their stockholders. And lo and behold, today they need a major bailout.
So, the concern here is: A, do we trust the Trump administration to effectively decide which company will get the loans or the grants? The answer is, no, I do not. Do we think that these loans and grants during a political season will be used to benefit the president’s election prospects? Absolutely, I do.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s presidential candidate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders speaking Wednesday night in Washington, D.C.
And this breaking news: U.S. unemployment claims have soared to 3.3 million claims last week, quadrupling the record from 1982.
When we come back, we turn to India, which is now under the largest lockdown in human history. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Sophia Blum and Jess Regelson from Providence, Rhode Island, singing their rendition of “Tinny” by Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, which they dedicated to their nephew and grandchildren, who they haven’t seen because of self-isolation in the midst of this pandemic.