COVID relief package includes billions for Arizona

March 5, 2021
In The News

Show Low can expect a $3.7-million windfall if the US Senate adopts the House-passed version of a $1.9-trillion COVID stimulus bill. Navajo County could get $22 million and Apache County some $14 million, according to figures released by the office of Rep. Tom O’Halleran.

The state of Arizona will get $7.5 billion in additional federal aid, although the state actually bolstered its reserve fund during the pandemic and the proposed state budget includes both school funding cuts and a fresh round of tax cuts.

The American Recovery Act passed on a straight party line vote and also includes extended unemployment benefits, $1,400 checks for most taxpayers, money for COVID-19 testing, small business grants and loans, money for reservation communities and money for schools.

Most cities and towns in Apache and Navajo counties could get between $500,000 and $2 million. Taxpayers could get their $1,400 checks quickly, but local governments won’t probably receive funds until late in the year, after adoption of their budgets for the current fiscal year. However, counties and towns can put anticipated grant money into their budgets and simply not spend that money if the grants don’t come through.

“This week, our country reached a devastating milestone — 500,000 American lives lost to this deadly virus,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran, the District 1 Democrat who represents much of southern Gila County and northeast Arizona. “With over 18 million Americans on unemployment, nearly 24 million struggling with hunger, and 40 million who cannot afford to pay rent, now is the time for action. I was eager to vote in favor of this important package that will provide a lifeline to families coping with the most acute public health crisis of our lifetimes and help to more rapidly get shots into arms.”

Rep. Paul Gosar, who represents Rim Country and much of western Arizona missed the vote. In a letter to Congress he said, “I continue to be unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the on-going public health emergency.”

Instead, he attended the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC), an extreme right group that includes many white nationalist groups. Organizer Nick Fuentes helped sponsor the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville and was banned from YouTube for hate speech, according to the Arizona Republic. Gosar then attended the Conservative Political Action Committee where he said, “I denounce when we talk about white racism. That’s not appropriate.”

The American Recovery Act passed on a 219 to 212 vote, with two Democrats joining all the Republicans in opposition. Critics of the measure said it was too expensive and had too much extra spending not directly related to the pandemic. The House bill included a phased in increase in the minimum wage to $15, but the Senate parliamentarian has already said the minimum wage can’t be considered in the Senate as part of the proposed budget reconciliation process.

O’Halleran hailed the passage of the stimulus bill

“American families spent much of 2020 struggling with no aid from Congress following the CARES Act, watching partisan politics take precedence over the real-life assistance they needed to keep food on the table or pay another month’s rent. Now, with the historic rollout of not one, but several effective, safe vaccines, an end to this national nightmare is almost in sight. I stand firm in my support for this bill that is long overdue and urge the Senate to take up and pass our legislation as soon as possible.”

O’Halleran said the package includes extra help for reservation communities, with the Navajo, Hopi, Gila and two Apache reservations in his district. The $20 billion in direct relief for tribal communities includes $6 billion for Indian Health Services, $850 million for reservation schools, $900 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and $750 million for housing and community development.

At this writing, the US Senate is expected to consider the package at mid-week. A group of moderate Republicans had proposed an alternative package at about one-third the cost. The Biden Administration has conceded it cannot win Senate passage as a normal bill without defeating a filibuster — which requires 60 votes. The Senate is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a vote in case of a tie. Senate Democrats say they’ll use the complicated end-run of a budget reconciliation bill, which requires a simple majority vote, but would entail dropping the minimum wage hike. Other provisions might also be affected, including pension funding, healthcare subsidies that allow laid off employees remain on their employer’s health plan and other provisions.

Republicans complain that the economy doesn’t need such a massive infusion of debt-funded stimulus, with new COVID-19 cases now declining from January’s all-time highs and roughly 25% of the population already vaccinated. Republicans in the House complained they were shut out of most of the negotiations, despite the Administration’s promises to seek bipartisan agreements. During the hearings, Republicans criticized many individual elements of the massive bill, including $30 billion to fund mass transit systems and $50 million in family planning funding. They complained that $1 trillion in money from the original CARES Act remains unspent — mostly money that has been allocated but not actually spent yet. Critics also complained much of the spending in the American Recovery Act won’t hit the economy until late in the year, when the economy might not need to boost.

Rep. Gosar himself in an earlier newsletter to constituents praised the relief measure for inclusion of additional loans for small businesses affected by closures.

“While I remain adamant that the best economic response to the COVID pandemic is to allow for our economies to reopen for those who choose to re-enter life based on their own health situation and personal choices, we cannot ignore that the reason so many small businesses have gone under, lost revenue, or had to lay off workers is government mandates. The government created the problem, and therefore the government must provide relief and means to restore your prosperity. I supported the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) it created,” he wrote.

He favored letting businesses write off on their taxes the grant money they relied on to continue operating or avoid laying off workers in the pandemic. The IRS had earlier barred such a write off, reasoning that it effectively allowed business to write off covered expenses twice.

Gosar said, “This is completely unacceptable because 1. these companies would not have required PPP to replace their revenue had we not shut down their businesses, and 2. if we do not allow them to write off their expenses as usual, then we will be giving them a tax increase on top of restricting their business.”

He said he lobbied to make the loans and grants tax deductible and that the provision was included in the final package.

Provisions of the American Rescue Plan include, according to a release from O’Halleran:

• $20 billion to enhance the COVID-19 vaccinations.

• $1,400 per person checks on top of the $600 per person payments approved in December.

• An extended $400 weekly unemployment benefit through August 29, 2021

• $49 billion to expand COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and mitigation.

• $130 billion to help K-12 schools re-open safely.

• $7.6 billion in broadband investments to expand internet connectivity for students and rural, tribal, and underserved communities.

• $26 billion for emergency rental assistance.

• $195.3 billion for states.

• $130.2 billion for local governments.

• $20 billion to federally recognized tribal governments.

• $4.5 billion for U.S. Territories.

• $7.25 billion in additional funding for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), for businesses – including non-profits.

• $15 Billion for COVID-19 emergency grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program.

• A 15% boost in maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) benefits through Sept. 30, plus $1.1 billion for state administrative costs.

• $5 billion in food aid for low-income children.

• $39 billion for child-care providers.

• $13 billion for the VA to provide health care services, including money to cover co-pays and $400 million for retraining for unemployed veterans.

Apache and Navajo County local government help:

• Arizona: $7.5 billion

• Apache County: $14 million

• Navajo County: $21 million

• Eagar: $1.2 million

• Holbrook: $1.2 million

• Pinetop: $1 million

• Show Low: $2.7 million

• Snowflake: $1.4 million

• Springerville: $472,000

• St. Johns: $838,000

• Taylor: $1 million

• Winslow: $2.2 million