Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. gives a thumbs up as he leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, where a deal has been reached on a coronavirus bill. The 2 trillion dollar stimulus bill is expected to be voted on in the Senate Wednesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Airlines, others to benefit from $2 trillion rescue bill

March 25, 2020 - 2:32 pm

The White House and Senate leaders agreed early Wednesday on a $2 trillion economic rescue package, the largest in the country's history. The bill comes in response to the viral pandemic that has shut down businesses and crippled economies around the globe. It would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide direct grants and loans to businesses and hospitals.

The Republican-controlled Senate must still approve the bill before sending it to the Democratic-controlled House, so final details could change. Passage in the Senate was expected later Wednesday.

Here's how various industries will benefit:

AIRLINES: Airlines could get a key part of their request — cash grants from taxpayers — under the massive spending bill. As of Wednesday afternoon, the deal includes $25 billion in direct grants and up to another $25 billion in loans or loan guarantees to passenger airlines. Cargo airlines like FedEx would get $4 billion in grants and up to $4 billion in loans, and airline industry contractors could get $3 billion in grants. Terms could still change, however.

The bill says grants are exclusively to pay employee wages, salaries and benefits based on how much the airline spent on them from April through September of last year. Loans would carry conditions, including bans on companies buying back their own stock or paying dividends. Airlines would have to avoid layoffs “to the extent practicable,” and would be required to keep at least 90% of current employment levels.

The White House and Senate Republicans had initially balked at grants. Robert Mann, an aviation consultant and former airline executive in New York, called the final deal “an initial victory for airlines.” He cautioned, however, that airlines face months of battling the virus-related downturn in travel before they can recover.

BANKS: The banking industry pushed for mostly regulatory changes that will let banks make more loans without hurting their balance sheets. For the most part, they got what they wanted.

The big issue in this crisis has been individuals and businesses who were paying regularly on their debts but suddenly do not have income because of quarantines or lockdowns. Banks have been trying to defer individuals’ payments, but modifications to loans are typically booked negatively on a bank’s balance sheet.

Under the new measure, banks who do loan modifications for individuals and businesses during this crisis will not have to immediately mark the losses on their balance sheet. Smaller banks with under $10 billion in assets will also get a temporary reduction in how much capital they need to hold in order to meet regulators’ requirements. The change is small, going from a leveraged ratio of 9% to 8%, but banking lobbyists say it will give banks leeway to make more loans in the crisis.

A large part of the bill — $367 billion — will be going to the Small Business Administration to help keep businesses keep paying workers. Banks large and small are the point persons for SBA loans and earn fees for doing so. That is likely to provide some sort of revenue bump for the banking industry.

AUTOS: The auto industry appears to have gotten at least some of what it wanted in the bill, mainly loans and loan guarantees for companies struggling to stay open when they’re not producing vehicles or parts. Companies could tap into $1 billion through the Defense Department to invest in manufacturing to increase production of medical protective gear for health care workers. Ford and Fiat Chrysler, for instance, say they will make masks and other devices to protect medical workers. The bill also has $1.5 billion in assistance to help rebuild manufacturing supply chains and to provide capital to local loan funds for economic recovery. There’s also $562 million for SBA loans.

ENERGY: The energy sector didn't get much of what it was seeking. President Donald Trump had sought $3 billion to purchase oil to beef up the country's strategic oil reserves, which may have provided limited relief to oil and gas producers struggling with record-low prices. But that plan, which Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer referred to as a "$3 billion bailout for big oil," was not included in the bill.

The American Exploration and Production Council, which represents 25 of the top oil and gas production companies in the country, said Wednesday it's confident the Department of Energy will be able to meet the president's directive and buy the oil.

The coal industry unsuccessfully sought more than $800 million in benefits for mining companies through reduced royalty payments and mine reclamation fees and lower taxes that fund beneficiary payments for black lung disease in miners. Meanwhile, the renewable energy industry had asked for — but did not get — extensions of deadlines related to construction or completion of solar and wind projects, without which they could lose access to time-sensitive tax credits. Industry associations were hopeful they'd be included in any later relief package.

RETAIL: Retailers found a lot to like in the bill. The industry, much of which has been temporarily shuttered, pushed for cash infusions for businesses that would serve as a bridge until the virus abates. The industry was also looking for cash payments and unemployment insurance that would replace the salaries of workers who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

Under the bill, retail workers who lost their jobs because of store closures will be able to receive unemployment insurance to replace their salaries up to $100,000. Retailers will be able to tap into the $454 billion in loans available to companies that were hurt by coronavirus. Companies that retain their workers during the crisis will be able to get a tax credit.

Brian Dodge, the president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, called the bill “bold and swift action.”

David French, senior vice president of government relations of the National Retail Federation noted that the success of the bill will depend on “how efficiently the programs will be administered.”

A lot is at stake. More than 180,000 “non-essential stores” are temporarily closed, accounting for more than 40% of retail space, according to Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, a retail research firm. One of every four workers supports the retail industry.

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