Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act

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 Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).[3]

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act
Great Seal of the United States
Full titleTo provide emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families, and businesses affected by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
AcronymCARES Act
Introduced in116th United States Congress
Introduced onJanuary 24, 2019
Public LawPub.L. 116–136
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 original bill included $500 billion in direct payments to 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 unanimously passed by the Senate on March 25, 2020.[4][5] The next day, it was passed in the House via voice vote and signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Unprecedented in size and scope,[4] the legislation was the largest-ever economic stimulus package in U.S. history,[6] amounting to 10% of total U.S. gross domestic product.[7] The bill was much larger than the $831 billion stimulus act passed in 2009 as part of the response to the Great Recession.[7]

The bill is referred to by lawmakers as "Phase 3" of Congress's coronavirus response.[8][9] 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.[8]


Reduction of economic activityEdit

In response to the coronavirus pandemic 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.[10] On Monday, March 16 the trade group representing the American airline industry requested a $50 billion federal bailout.[11] 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."[12] The National Restaurant Association requested aid to restaurants in the amount of $145 billion.[12]

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.[13] 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".[14]

On March 20, Goldman Sachs predicted the U.S. gross domestic product would "decline by 24% in the second quarter of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic".[15] Deutsche Bank predicted the U.S. economy would shrink by 12.9% in the second quarter of 2020.[16]

Initial proposalsEdit

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;[17][18] Gabbard suggested that it be a temporary measure until the crisis subsides.[19] 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.[20][21] 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.[22] On 17 March, the Trump administration indicated that some payment would be given to non-millionaires as part of a stimulus package.[23][24]

With guidance from the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a third stimulus package amounting to more than $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[28][29] via one or two payments of $600–1,200 per adult and $500 per child.[30][31][32] Democrats prepared a $750 billion package as a counter-offer,[33][34] which focused on expanding unemployment benefits instead of tax rebates.[32] A compromise plan was made to set aside $250 billion for tax rebates and the same amount for unemployment.[25]


CARES Act relief amounts by category ($ billions), totaling $2.1 trillion.[35]

The Act contains the following provisions.[36]

  • Allocates up to $500 billion for assistance to eligible businesses, states, and municipalities, with not more than $25 billion designated for passenger air carriers, not more than $4 billion for air cargo carriers, and not more than $17 billion for businesses critical to maintaining national security.[37][38]
  • Creates a $349 billion loan program, called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), for small businesses with funds available for loans originated from February 15 through June 30, 2020.[37][39]
  • Allocates $130 billion in relief to the medical and hospital industries.[37]
  • Provides credits against the 2020 personal income tax for eligible individuals who are neither nonresident aliens nor claimed as dependents by another taxpayer.
    • $1,200 to each individual or $2,400 to each married couple filing jointly, and
    • $500 for each dependent who is a qualifying child under age 17 as of December 31, 2020.
    • The credits are reduced, but not below zero, by each five percent of so much of the taxpayers' adjusted gross income as exceeds $150,000 for a joint return; $112,500 for a head of household; or $75,000 for other taxpayers.[37][40]
  • Expands eligibility for unemployment insurance and provides people with an additional $600 per week on top of the unemployment amount determined by each state.[37][41] Gig workers and freelancers are covered by unemployment insurance for the first time.[42]
  • Expands telehealth services in Medicare.[37][37][43]
  • Provides the Secretary of the Treasury with the authority to make loans or loan guarantees to states, municipalities, and eligible businesses.[37][44]
  • Provides a refundable employee retention tax credit for employers whose operations were suspended due to COVID-19 or whose revenue has significantly decreased due to COVID-19.
  • Allows employers to defer payment of the employers' share of FICA tax for up to two years. Payment of half of self-employment tax may also be deferred for up to two years.
  • Allows individuals who take the standard deduction to take a tax credit for up to $300 of charitable contributions per year, effective January 1, 2020.
  • Increases the limit for most tax-deductible charitable contributions from 50% to 100% of adjusted gross income for individuals and from 10% to 25% for corporations. Increases the limit for tax-deductions for charitable contributions of food inventory.
  • Payments of student loan principal and interest by an employer to either an employee or a lender is not taxable to the employee if paid on or before December 31, 2020.
  • Suspends required minimum distributions for 2020.
  • Increases the maximum amount of a loan from an employer-sponsored retirement plan from $50,000 to $100,000 and from 50% of vested assets to 100% of vested assets.
  • Delays the 80% limitation on net operating losses from 2018 to 2021. Allows net operating losses from 2018, 2019, and 2020 to be carried back to up to five years. Delays the $500,000 limitation on deductible net operating losses until 2021.
  • When a consumer affected by COVID-19 requests and receives flexibility with their payment obligations from a creditor, the creditor is required to report to credit bureaus that the consumer is in compliance with their payment obligations.[45]

Breakdown of provisionsEdit

Division A: Keeping Workers Paid and Employed, Health Care System Enhancements, and Economic Stabilization

  • Title I: Keeping American Workers Paid and Employed Act
  • Title II: Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus Act
    • Subtitle A: Unemployment Insurance Provisions
    • Subtitle B: Rebates And Other Individual Provisions
    • Subtitle C: Business Provisions
  • Title III: Supporting America's Health Care System in the Fight Against the Coronavirus
    • Subtitle A: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act
      • Part I: Addressing Supply Shortages
        • Subpart A: Medical Product Supplies
        • Subpart B: Mitigating Emergency Drug Shortages
        • Subpart C: Preventing Medical Device Shortages
      • Part II: Access to Health Care for Covid–19 Patients
        • Subpart A: Coverage of Testing and Preventive Services
        • Subpart B: Support for Health Care Providers
        • Subpart C: Miscellaneous Provisions
      • Part III: Innovation
      • Part IV: Health Care Workforce
    • Subtitle B: Education Provisions: COVID–19 Pandemic Education Relief Act of 2020
    • Subtitle C: Labor Provisions
    • Subtitle D: Finance Committee
    • Subtitle E: Health and Human Services Extenders
      • Part I: Medicare Provisions
      • Part II: Medicaid Provisions
      • Part III: Human Services and Other Health Programs
      • Part IV: Public Health Provisions
      • Part V: Miscellaneous Provisions
    • Subtitle F: Over-the-Counter Drugs
      • Part I: Otc Drug Review
      • Part II: User Fees
  • Title IV: Economic Stabilization and Assistance to Severely Distressed Sectors of the United States Economy
  • Title V: Coronavirus Relief Funds
  • Title VI: Miscellaneous Provisions

Division B: Emergency Appropriations for Coronavirus Health Response and Agency Operations

Legislative historyEdit

Initial criticism and negotiationsEdit

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."[46] Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) criticized the fact that Democrats were not involved by Republicans in drafting the bill.[47]

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".[46] 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."[46]

Early procedural votesEdit

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.[48] Immediately thereafter, "Dow futures hit their 5% 'limit down' overnight, and were off 600 points at one stage Monday morning."[48][49]

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."[50] 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.[51][49] Both procedural votes were on a "shell" bill framed to repeal an Obamacare tax which passed the House on July 17, 2019.[52] For procedural reasons, the text will be replaced by the new language passed by the Senate.[53][54]

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.[50]

Nancy Pelosi indicated that the House would prepare its own bill, expected to exceed $2.5 trillion, as a counter-offer,[55] which was criticized by Republicans as "a progressive wishlist seemingly unrelated to the crisis".[56]

Senate agreementEdit

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,[57] the full text of which exceeds 300 pages.[58] Mitch McConnell "announced news of a breakthrough on the Senate floor shortly after 1:30 a.m. Wednesday".[57]

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."[59] McConnell continued the analogy to war by saying 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".[60] 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."[59]

CARES Act as negotiated by the Senate[61]

The result of the agreement between Senate leaders and the White House was a $2 trillion bill that "is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history".[62] The bill was criticized by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.[62] 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".[63] 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.[64] To address these concerns, Senate leaders "agreed to allow an amendment vote on the floor".[63] The Republican-led amendment to cap unemployment benefits failed in a 48–48 vote.[65]

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 (all Republicans) were Rand Paul (who had tested positive for coronavirus), Mitt Romney and Mike Lee (who were both in isolation after contact with Senator Paul), and Senator John Thune who was "feeling ill".[5]

House voteEdit

On March 25, Pelosi said that "many of the provisions in there have been greatly improved because of negotiation," and hoped to pass the bill by unanimous consent.[66]

Representative Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, attempted to maneuver for a roll-call vote, but the quorum present did not support the idea. 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."[67] Massie's actions received bipartisan criticism. Former Secretary of State John Kerry, a Democrat, tweeted "Congressman Massie has tested positive for being an asshole. He must be quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity,"[68] a message which was shared by President Trump on Twitter.[67] Republican Representative Peter T. King called Massie's actions "disgraceful" and "irresponsible".[67]

The House passed the bill on March 27 by a near-unanimous, unrecorded voice vote.[69][70][71]

Signed into law and signing statementEdit

CARES Act as signed into law

A few hours after the House passed the bill, it was signed into law by President Trump.[72]

In a signing statement, Trump suggested he could gag the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR), an oversight position created by the legislation to monitor loans and investments from a $500 billion corporate bailout fund established by the legislation.[73] A provision in the legislation empowers the special inspector general to audit the use of the fund; requires the Treasury Department and other executive-branch entities to provide information to the special inspector general; and directs the special inspector general to report to Congress "without delay" if an agency unreasonably withholds requested information.[73] In his signing statement, Trump suggested his constitutional powers as president enabled him to block the SIGPR's reports to Congress.[73] According to The New York Times, the statement was consistent with Trump's "history of trying to keep damaging information acquired by an inspector general from reaching Congress".[73]


Bipartisan passageEdit

Congress passed the CARES Act relatively quickly and with unanimity from both parties despite its $2.2 trillion price tag, indicating the severity of the global pandemic and the need for emergency spending, as viewed by lawmakers.[74] Writing in The New Republic, journalist Alex Shephard nevertheless questioned how the Republican Party "... had come to embrace big spending" when, during the Great Recession, no Republicans in the House and only three in the Senate supported President Barack Obama's $800 billion stimulus, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), often citing the deficit and national debt.[75] Shephard opined that, unlike CARES, much of the media attention to ARRA focused on its impact on the deficit and he questioned whether Republicans would again support a major spending request under a hypothetical future Democratic president.[76]

President Trump remarked upon passage of CARES in the Senate that "The Democrats have treated us fairly ... I really believe we've had a very good back-and-forth. And I say that with respect to [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer".[74] Nonetheless, after unanimous passage in the Senate and near-unanimous passage in the House, no Democrats were invited to the signing ceremony.[77][78]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ This included $300 billion to help small businesses with forgivable loans up to $10 million[25] and $200 billion to support industries such as airlines, cruise companies, and hotels through loans and other measures.[26] Democrats advocated for banning stock buy-backs to prevent these funds from being used to make a profit.[27]


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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit