House Passes $2 Trillion Coronavirus Aid Bill

After three hours of speeches about how important it was to pass the coronavirus aid bill, the House has finally passed the $2 trillion package.

It includes help for small businesses and independent contractors--broadcasters, cable operators, and performers among them, as well as funding for rural broadband for telemedicine and distance learning, and funding for the arts and noncommercial media. 

Related: Coronavirus Bill Buttresses Rural Broadband Buildout Funding

The vote was unanimous--by voice vote--after a loan Republican, who had signaled he would vote against the bill--was denied a roll call vote.

President Trump signed the bill into law Friday afternoon. 

Related: FCC Gets $200 Million for Telehealth

“The CARES Act takes a significant step in protecting the health of all Americans and providing peace of mind during this time of economic uncertainty, but there is a lot more work to do," said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the House energy & Commerce Committee. "In future legislation, we must ensure affordable treatment for all, expand distance learning programs and access to the internet for low-income Americans..."

“The Motion Picture Association applauds Secretary Mnuchin and Congress on the passage of the [bill]," said the association's chairman, Charles Rivkin. "The ongoing COVID-19 crisis is a threat to the entire global economy, including creative industries. In the United States alone, the film, television, and streaming industry supports 2.5 million jobs and 93,000 small businesses – 87 percent of which employ fewer than 10 people. This bill provides critical relief for independent contractors, freelancers, and small businesses who are the backbone of the entertainment industry and among those whose livelihoods are hardest hit by the current public health crisis. Industry stakeholders, including unions, guilds, and theater owners, worked tirelessly to achieve this important relief.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with Congress and the Administration in the coming weeks and months to build on this progress," he said.

“We are extremely pleased that the federal stimulus package will offer relief to America’s songwriters and composers, who are, in many cases, our nation’s ultimate small businesses," said Mike O’Neill, president of music licensing organization BMI. "Thanks to the CARES Act, music creators who are independent contractors, sole proprietors or self-employed, will be eligible for small business loans, emergency grants, unemployment insurance, payroll tax deferrals and more, which will all help protect their livelihoods during this challenging time."

"We believe the bill reflects the scale of challenges we face as a country and recognizes that expanding virtual care is necessary to defeat COVID-19," said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO, of ATA, the American Telemedicine Association. "We commend Congress for recognizing the power of telehealth, and the bipartisan effort to lift telehealth barriers in the Medicare program while prioritizing federal funding for telehealth access and infrastructure during this emergency....ATA members have been on the front lines of this pandemic, helping improve access to care while keeping people safe at home and facilitating the timely diagnosis and treatment of individuals via virtual care solutions." 

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks praised passage, but then called for the FCC to do more to address the pandemic. 

“I welcome Congress’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic with a much-needed economic stimulus program that will help workers, consumers, health care providers, and businesses across America," said the Democratic commissioner. "It is a time for action, and the FCC must do more to advance its own 'connectivity stimulus.' 

"The coming weeks will lay bare the already cruel reality of the digital divide: tens of millions of Americans cannot access or cannot afford the broadband connections they need to telework, access medical information, and help young people learn when school is closed.  The FCC must closely examine its statutory authority and funding resources and take bold action to respond to the current crisis.  As I’ve called for previously, the Lifeline and E-rate programs must be expanded to meet the needs of struggling Americans that need connectivity.  In times of emergency, Americans always pull together.  We must act now.”

NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith praised the help for small businesses.

“NAB is grateful to Congress and the White House for passage of the coronavirus relief package today," said Smith. "Allowing businesses with fewer than 500 employees to gain access to forgivable Small Business Administration loans will go a long way towards keeping many broadcasters and local businesses afloat during these difficult times. 

Related: NAB's Smith Says Virus Has Put Broadcasters on Crisis Footing

“The devastation to Main Street businesses – and to local broadcasters who support those businesses to drive commerce in hometowns across America – is unprecedented. Going forward, NAB will be advocating for further relief for broadcasters who keep communities safe with life-saving emergency information and fact-based journalism.” 

“Senate Democrats have negotiated a much-improved deal for working families, but more needs to be done to ensure that all workers can survive the crisis,” said Communications Workers of America Senior Director for Government Affairs and Policy Shane Larson in a statement. “For example, many workers remain without paid sick leave and paid family leave, OSHA protections are inadequate for our health care workers and other frontline workers, more needs to be done to ensure that health care workers have the equipment they need, and we need more support to ensure elections go forward smoothly and safely if the crisis is still ongoing this fall.” 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.