The U.S. Capitol building. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

ITHACA, N.Y. — President Donald Trump signed into law the “phase three” stimulus bill aimed at aiding health systems and stemming economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic several hours after the House signed off on the measure Friday.

Lawmakers, including Ithaca Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) rushed back to Washington in the early morning hours Friday after Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY.) threatened to request a roll call vote, which would require a quorum of lawmakers to be present. The chamber shot down Massie’s motion with applause as members sat spread out in the chamber and galleries of the House socially distanced from each other.

“It’s a big vote, probably the biggest vote I’ve taken in my congressional career. And as I reflect upon it, I didn’t put a card in the box because we were united on the floor of the House,” said Reed.

The $2 trillion stimulus package, the largest in history, would provide for $100 billion in aid to hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic, $377 billion of federally guaranteed loans to small businesses, and $500 billion in lending for companies.

The measure also provides for $1,200 payments to working Americans making less than $75,000 a year plus in addition to an extra $500 for each child. Individuals making between $75,000 and $99,000 also qualify for smaller payments. This will be based on information from the most recently filed tax return. The Treasury Department hasn’t issued exact guidance on the timeline for making those payments but it’s expected that individuals who have direct deposit information on file from previously filed tax returns could be paid within three weeks. The IRS says nobody will have to apply if the Treasury Department already has information on file, but that it will provide more detailed guidance (find it here) to the program shortly.

The stimulus also expands eligibility for unemployment benefits to part-time and self-employed individuals and increases those payments by $600 per week. The period allowed for collecting unemployment benefits is also extended to a maximum of 39 weeks.

Federal student loan servicers, under the new bill, have been instructed to suspend all required payments through September 30. This applies to direct loans from the federal government from the last 10 years. Loan services will notify payees in a few weeks of any changes.

In addition to the health crisis, Reed stressed “turning the lights back on” and setting up a plan for reopening businesses. Reed mostly agreed with President Donald Trump’s assertion that businesses should be reopened by Easter (April 12) as a “goal”.

“I mean, that is not something I would be opposed to,” Reed said on a conference call with reporters shortly after the vote Friday. “But the point is you got to do it when it’s safe enough.”

Reed told the Wall Street Journal that he decided to return to Washington from Corning at 3 a.m., having his wife and daughter drive instead of flying. He shied away from criticizing Massie for requiring members to return to vote, but on a Facebook Live Friday afternoon Reed called the situation “some partisan political grandstanding.”

President Donald Trump called Massie a “third rate grandstander” earlier Friday.

Vaughn Golden

Vaughn Golden is a freelance radio and print reporter covering politics around the southern tier and central New York. He authors the weekly "Capitol Watch" watchdog report on Ithaca's representatives...