Even amid the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic, the massive $2 trillion stimulus plan voted on by the House this afternoon saw its share of partisan wrangling (because . . . Washington). But more infuriating was the long list of special interests lobbying for big chunks of money or other benefits, despite the fact that many of these interests clearly don’t have the most compelling need.
Though many core elements within the 900-page bill have been praised (it includes $250 billion set aside for direct payments to individuals and families, $350 billion in small business loans, $250 billion in unemployment insurance benefits, and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies), others have been roundly criticized. So, to balance out your general anxiety right now with some righteous rage, I present the lowlights of the bill:
- Buried on page 203 of the bill is a tax break that could save wealthy real estate investors $170 billion over 10 years, as reported by the New York Times‘s Jesse Drucker.
- $454 billion of the package goes toward backing up a new Federal Reserve program that largely benefits big business. And since banks tend to maintain a 10-to-1 ratio between loans disbursed and capital on hand, that amount is “sufficient to supply corporate America with more than $4 trillion in subsidized financing,” reports New York magazine, noting acidly that it makes the bill a “plutocracy-stabilization fund.”
The sunscreen industry caught a break when the product was lumped in with other over-the-counter drugs that will get speedier approval by the Food and Drug Administration in Subtitle F of Part V (“Miscellaneous Provisions”), spotted by Taxpayers for Common Sense.
- For-profit colleges, which tend to have high dropout rates and have a troubling record of misleading students about their ability to get jobs upon graduation, will be included in a provision that allows all colleges to keep funds given to educate students, even if they drop out due to COVID-19 emergencies.
- The bill gives $25 million to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, which seems a little unnecessary at this time.
- It includes a six-month extension of federal funding for abstinence-only education (heavily supported by social conservatives), which has nothing to do with the pandemic or its health impacts.
In addition, the Fed tapped asset-management giant BlackRock to direct three of its bond-buying programs, “which under the arrangement could buy some of its own funds on behalf of the central bank,” notes Bloomberg. Conflict of interest much?
- While some federal student loan borrowers get a short reprieve from making payments, that didn’t include 1.2 million borrowers with other types of federal loans, notes Persis Yu, director of the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project.
- Though tens of millions of low-income Americans lack broadband internet, which is critical during a health crisis (as noted by Fast Company‘s Mark Sullivan), the bill doesn’t include additional funding for the emergency Lifeline broadband program.
- And the bill doesn’t include any emergency rental or mortgage assistance beyond homeless assistance and doesn’t include “limitations on foreclosure or eviction where homeowner’s or landlord’s mortgage is not federally assisted,” notes the Center for Economic and Policy Research.