Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act

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Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act
Great Seal of the United States
AcronymCARES Act
Introduced in116th United States Congress
Introduced onJanuary 24, 2019
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.R. 748 (Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act of 2019) by Joe Courtney (D-CT) on January 24, 2019
  • Committee consideration by: House Ways and Means
  • Passed the House on July 17, 2019 (419–6)
  • Passed the Senate as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act on March 25, 2020 (96–0) with amendment
  • House agreed to Senate amendment on March 27, 2020 (voice vote)
  • Signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27, 2020

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (H.R. 748[1]), also known as the CARES Act,[2] is a law meant to address the economic fallout of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in the United States. It was introduced in the United States Senate by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).[3]

The original, Republican-proposed $1 trillion bill includes $500 billion in checks for Americans,[2] "$208 billion in loans for major industries that have been impacted by the coronavirus," and "$300 billion for small businesses."[3] As a result of bipartisan negotiations, the bill grew to $2 trillion in the version passed by the Senate on March 25, 2020.[4] On March 27, 2020, the bill passed the House via voice vote and was signed by President Donald Trump.

The bill is referred to by lawmakers as "Phase 3" of Congress’s coronavirus response.[5][6][7] The first phase "was an $8.3 billion bill spurring coronavirus vaccine research and development" (the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020), which was signed into law on March 6, 2020. The second phase was "an approximately $104 billion package largely focused on paid sick leave and unemployment benefits for workers and families" (the Families First Coronavirus Response Act), which was signed into law on March 18, 2020.[5]


Reduction of economic activity[edit]

In response to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States there was a dramatic reduction in economic activity, both globally and in the United States, as a result of the enactment of social distancing measures meant to curb the spread of the virus. These measures included working from home, widespread cancellation of events, cancellation of classes (or moving in-person to online classes), reduction of travel, and the closure of businesses.

In March it was predicted that without government intervention most airlines around the world would go bankrupt.[8] On Monday, March 16 the trade group representing the American airline industry requested a $50 billion federal bailout.[9] On March 18 the National Restaurant Association wrote the President of the United States and members of Congress to say they were "estimating that the industry’s sales will decline by $225 billion during the next three months, which will prompt the loss of between five and seven million jobs."[10] The National Restaurant Association requested aid to restaurants in the amount of $145 billion.[10]

In an effort to gain Republican support for a large stimulus package that at the time was envisioned to be about $1 trillion, United States Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin told Republican Senators that the United States unemployment rate could reach 20% if no government action was taken.[11] Almost 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment in the week ending March 21, "nearly five times more than the previous record of 695,000 set in 1982."[12]

On March 20, Goldman Sachs predicted that US gross domestic product would "decline by 24% in the second quarter of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic."[13] Deutsche Bank predicted the US economy would shrink by 12.9% in the second quarter of 2020.[14]

Initial proposals[edit]

In mid-March 2020, Democratic politicians Andrew Yang, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Tulsi Gabbard advocated for universal basic income in response to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in the United States;[15][16] Gabbard suggested that it be a temporary measure until the crisis subsides.[17] On March 13, Democratic representatives Ro Khanna and Tim Ryan introduced legislation to provide payments to low-income citizens during the crisis via an earned income tax credit.[18][19] On March 16, Republican senators Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton stated their support for a $1,000 basic income, the former saying it should be a one-time payment to help with short-term costs.[20] On 17 March, the Trump administration indicated that some payment would be given to non-millionaires as part of a stimulus package.[21][22]

With guidance from the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a third stimulus package amounting to over $1 trillion.[a] It was suggested that $200–500 billion would fund tax rebate checks to Americans who made between $2,500 and $75,000 in 2018 to help cover short-term costs[26][27] via one or two payments of $600–1,200 per adult and $500 per child.[28][29][30][b] Democrats prepared a $750 billion package as a counter-offer,[32][33] which focused on expanding unemployment benefits instead of tax rebates.[30] A compromise plan was made to set aside $250 billion for tax rebates and the same amount for unemployment.[23]


CARES Act relief amounts by category ($ billions), totaling $2.1 trillion.[34]

The bill contains provisions for the following:

  • Allocates $500 billion for assistance to businesses, states, and municipalities, with no more than $25 billion designated for passenger air carriers, $4 billion for air cargo carriers, and $17 billion for businesses critical to maintaining national security[35]
  • Creates a $349 billion loan program for small businesses[35]
  • Allocates $130 billion in relief to the medical and hospital industries[35]
  • Provides $1,200 to Americans making $75,000 or less ($150,000 in the case of joint returns and $112,500 for head of household) and $500 for each child[35]
  • Expands eligibility for unemployment insurance and provides people with an additional $600 per week on top of the unemployment amount determined by each state[35]
  • Expands tele-health services in Medicare[35]
  • Provides the Secretary of the Treasury with the authority to make loans or loan guarantees to states, municipalities, and eligible businesses[35]

Legislative history[edit]

Initial criticism and negotiations[edit]

The House initially passed a tax cut bill in mid-2019 and sent it to the Senate, which then used it as a shell bill and added an amendment in the nature of a substitute, fulfilling the constitutional requirement that all bills for raising revenue must originate in the House. After the new bill was released by the Senate, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a statement that read in part: "We are beginning to review Senator McConnell's proposal and on first reading, it is not at all pro-worker and instead puts corporations way ahead of workers."[36] Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) criticized the fact that Democrats were not involved by Republicans in drafting the bill.[37]

Among Senate Republicans there was "significant debate and disagreement" regarding "President Donald Trump's proposal to provide most Americans with $1,000-plus checks to boost spending and stimulate the economy."[36] Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the Republican chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, stated "I personally think that if we're going to help people we should direct the cash payments maybe as a supplement to unemployment, not to the people who are working every day, just a blank check to everybody in America making up to $75,000."[36]

Early procedural votes[edit]

On the evening of Sunday March 22, 2020, Senate Democrats blocked the bill in a key procedural vote; the vote was 47-47, while 60 votes were needed to proceed.[38] Immediately thereafter, "Dow futures hit their 5% 'limit down' overnight, and were off 600-points at one stage Monday morning."[38][39] US Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders was one of 6 senators who missed the vote, and instead held a livestream with The Squad members.[40]

In response, Mitch McConnell "announced another procedural vote on the package timed for 9:45 a.m. Monday — minutes after the stock market opens — but it was blocked by Democrats who don't want to be forced to take the vote."[41] The second key procedural vote on the CARES Act, a cloture vote to end debate, failed the afternoon of Monday, March 23; 60 votes were needed, but it failed 49-46.[42][7][39] Both procedural votes were on a "shell" bill framed to repeal an Obamacare tax which passed the House on July 17, 2019.[43] For procedural reasons, the text will be replaced by the new language passed by the Senate.[44][45]

Procedural votes for the bill were made more difficult by the fact that five Republican Senators were in self-quarantine: Senator Rand Paul, who had tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019, as well as Senators Mike Lee, Mitt Romney, Cory Gardner, and Rick Scott.[41]

Nancy Pelosi indicated that the House would prepare its own bill, expected to exceed $2.5 trillion, as a counter-offer,[46] which was criticized by Republicans as "a progressive wishlist seemingly unrelated to the crisis".[47]

Senate agreement[edit]

Early in the morning of Wednesday March 25, Senate leaders announced they had come to an agreement on a modified version of the CARES Act,[48] the full text of which exceeds 800 pages.[49] Mitch McConnell "announced news of a breakthrough on the Senate floor shortly after 1:30 a.m. Wednesday."[48]

On the floor of the Senate, McConnell stated "the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a historic relief package for this pandemic" and that "this is a wartime level of investment for our nation."[50] McConnell continued the analogy to war by stating that the CARES Act would provide "ammunition" to health care workers who are the "frontline heroes who put themselves at risk to care for patients" by providing them "the ammunition they need."[51] Chuck Schumer stated on the Senate floor that "Like all compromises, this bill is far from perfect, but we believe the legislation has been improved significantly to warrant its quick consideration and passage, and because many Democrats and Republicans were willing to do the serious and hard work, the bill is much better off than where it started."[50]

CARES Act[52]

The result of the agreement between Senate leaders and the White House was an 880 page, $2 trillion bill that "is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history."[53] The bill was criticized by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.[53] Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, Ben Sasse, and Rick Scott expressed concern the bill's strong unemployment provisions "encourage employees to be laid off instead of working."[54] Senator Bernie Sanders then threatened to block the legislation and impose more stringent conditions for the $500 billion earmarked for corporate bailouts if the unemployment provision was removed by the proposed amendment of the four Republican Senators.[55] To address these concerns, Senate leaders "agreed to allow an amendment vote on the floor."[54] The Republican-led amendment to cap unemployment benefits failed in a 48-48 vote.[56]

Late in the night of Wednesday, March 25, 2020 the Senate passed the $2 trillion bill in a unanimous 96-0 vote. The four Senators not voting were Rand Paul (who did not vote after testing positive for coronavirus disease 2019), Mitt Romney and Mike Lee (who were both in isolation after contact with Senator Paul), as well as Senator John Thune who "missed the vote after feeling ill."[4]

House vote and signing[edit]

On March 25, Pelosi stated that "many of the provisions in there have been greatly improved because of negotiation," and hoped to pass the bill by unanimous consent.[57]

Representative Thomas Massie attempted to maneuver for a roll-call vote, but there was insufficient demand among the quorum present; the House passed the bill by voice vote on March 27.[58] Massie's threat to demand a recorded vote nonetheless "compelled dozens, if not hundreds, of lawmakers to return to Capitol Hill from their home districts, navigating across interstates and through airports at a time when public health officials have urged Americans to avoid nonessential travel and gathering in large groups."[59] Massie's actions received bipartisan criticism. Former Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted "Congressman Massie has tested positive for being an asshole. He must be quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity,"[60] a message which was shared by President Trump on Twitter.[59] Republican Representative Peter T. King called Massie's actions "Disgraceful" and "Irresponsible.”[59]

A few hours after the House passed the bill, it was signed into law by President Trump.[61]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ This included $300 billion to help small businesses with forgivable loans up to $10 million[23] and $200 billion to support industries such as airlines, cruise companies, and hotels through loans and other measures.[24] Democrats advocated for banning stock buy-backs to prevent these funds from being used to make a profit.[25]
  2. ^ It is unclear whether the rebates would be tax-free.[31]


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  3. ^ a b Carney, Jordain (March 19, 2020). "McConnell introduces third coronavirus relief proposal". The Hill. New York City: Capitol News Company. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
  4. ^ a b Pramuk, Jacob. "Senate passes $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, sending it to the House". CNBC. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Nilsen, Ella; Zhou, Li (March 17, 2020). "What we know about Congress' potential $1 trillion coronavirus stimulus package". Vox. New York City: Vox Media. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
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  15. ^ Clifford, Catherine (March 13, 2020). "Andrew Yang, AOC, Harvard professor: Free cash payments would help during coronavirus pandemic". CNBC. Retrieved March 16, 2020.
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]