Payson can expect a $3.7 million windfall now that the U.S. Senate has adopted the House-passed version of a $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus bill. Star Valley can expect $550,000 and Gila County some $10.4 million, according to figures released by the House Budget Committee.
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 testing, small business grants and loans, money for reservation communities and money for schools.
Arizona Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema both voted for the bill. Sinema was one of several Democratic senators who opposed including the House-passed increase in the minimum wage to $15 in the package, after the Senate parliamentarian ruled it could not be included in a budget reconciliation package.
Democrats hailed passage of the sweeping measure.
“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.”
Republicans presented a united front against the bill, saying it include too much spending unrelated to the pandemic.
Rep. Paul Gosar, who represents Rim Country and much of western Arizona did not attend 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.”
However, he voted against the package by proxy — a procedure Congress has adopted during the pandemic.
Gosar did attend 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 the House on a 219 to 212 vote, with two Democrats joining all the Republicans in opposition. In the Senate, one Republican was absent and all the others opposed the package — which passed on a 49-50 vote.
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.”
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.
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 a 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 businesses 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. He also proposed a $10,000 per-person stimulus check.
He wanted to strip non-COVID funding from “this atrocious bill.” Gosar asserted only 9% of the spending in the bill was related to the pandemic.
The Associated Press fact-checked the widely circulated claim that only 9% of the $1.9 trillion was directly related to the pandemic and concluded it was “false.” The 9% figure apparently includes only money for testing and vaccines. The fact-checkers concluded that roughly 85% of the bill relates directly or indirectly to the pandemic.