WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday that the first legislation the Senate will take up under his leadership will be a COVID-19 relief package, including additional stimulus checks for qualifying Americans, small business aid, vaccine distribution money and assistance to state and local businesses.
”Democrats wanted to do much more in the last bill and promised to do more, if given the opportunity, to increase direct payments to a total of $2,000 — we will get that done,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “We will also further support vaccine distribution efforts and help American families, small businesses, schools and state and local governments. As soon as the new Senate is organized and Vice-President (Kamala) Harris has been sworn in, we will immediately set to work to deliver on that goal.”
Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have developed a new framework for distributing state and local aid so all municipal governments will get federal funding, they said. The two senators did not have a price tag for how much money would be allocated to states, nor how much the total package would cost.
Staring down a multi-billion dollar deficit, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been adamant about the need for more federal aid for states to replace lost revenues and deal with increased expenses related to the pandemic, as have Republican and Democratic county leaders and mayors.
Some Republicans in the Senate strongly opposed more state aid in the last COVID-19 relief package passed in the Senate. But Democrats are increasing their presence in the chamber and later this month, after new senators are sworn in, the Senate will be split 50-50, with Harris providing any tie-breaker vote. New Democratic senators representating California and Georgia could be sworn in as soon as Jan. 19, Gillibrand said.
Schumer called the Senate majority and a Joe Biden presidency a “new opportunity” to revisit the issue of state and local aid. Gillibrand said she is “optimistic” that with Schumer at the helm they would pass it.
He also said he would ask the Biden administration to reimburse 100 percent of state and local government’s COVID-19 emergency expenses through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, up from 75 percent reimbursement. That action could be done by Biden without Congress.
The last COVID-19 relief package allocated funding for FEMA to reimburse government’s costs, but did not include state aid. The last package, signed into law by President Donald J. Trump on Dec. 28, included over $50 billion in various forms of relief flowing to New York.
For struggling Americans, the legislation boosted unemployment benefits with an extra $300 federal payment, delivering over $6.5 billion in new unemployment money to New York. The bill included $600 direct checks to individuals making up to $75,000 a year and an additional $600 per dependent child. Those checks are being distributed by the Internal Revenue Service.
The earlier legislation also sets up a federally funded rental assistance program, including about $1.3 billion in aid for New Yorkers, and allows individuals to get money for COVID-19 funeral assistance.
Hard-hit small businesses can now apply for a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans starting this week.
The state also gets another $810 million for vaccine distribution and fighting the virus, with an additional $810 million for New York City’s health department.