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Wide swath of economy seeks share of COVID-19 rescue package

The American flag flies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
The American flag flies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As Congress works on a rescue package to help shore up a U.S. economy hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, a wide swath of business, from the solar power industry to casinos and hotels, along with doctors, nurses and educators are urging lawmakers to give them a share of the pie.

The House has passed an estimated $100 billion aid package of sick pay, emergency food aid and free virus testing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised “significant and bold new steps above and beyond what the House has passed.”

And the White House is pitching an $850 billion aid package, with other proposals likely to follow.

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HEALTH INDUSTRY

America’s hospitals, doctors and nurses are asking Congress to provide at least $1 billion in emergency funding and to not offset that with cuts to other programs. The CEOs of associations representing all three entities sent a letter to congressional leaders detailing the reasons they need the help.

They said financial support would help them obtain supplies, rapidly increase infection control training, build or retrofit separate areas in their locations to screen and treat and expand their ability to perform telemedicine, among other things.

— By Tom Murphy

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EDUCATION

One of the nation’s largest teachers unions is requesting $100 billion for schools, while colleges and universities say they need emergency funding to make up for steep revenue losses brought on by the pandemic.

The American Federation of Teachers is lobbying for an overall package of about $1.5 trillion, with at least $100 billion for the nation’s schools. The union says schools need money to disinfect buildings, to provide free meals during closures and to make sure every student has a computer and home internet access as instruction moves online.

“School closings are inevitable. It’s an agonizing choice, but let's plan for the vulnerable kids,” Randi Weingarten, president of the union, said in an interview.

The AFT is also pressing for a complete halt on student loan payments and for a moratorium on wage garnishments, which would go further than Trump’s promise to temporarily waive interest on student loans.

The nation’s other major teachers union, the National Education Association, says it’s focused on getting the Senate to pass a bill that was approved in the House to provide free testing for the coronavirus and to ensure paid sick leave. But the group’s president said any broader package would need to include much more for schools than they received in the 2009 economic package.

“What we’re facing today is so much bigger than what we thought we would be looking at,” President Lily Eskelsen García said.

Meanwhile, lobbyists for the nation’s colleges and universities hope to secure funding to offset revenue losses suffered as they shut down campuses and send students home early. Some risk losing 20% of their budgets as they refund students for housing and tuition fees, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, an industry group in Washington.

“Almost all colleges and universities face a significant loss in auxiliary revenue as a result of the COVID-19 shutdowns, and that will translate into an immediate cash-flow problem,” Hartle said. “Some schools could potentially go out of business.”

Hartle is raising the issue with lawmakers and asking them to create a new process to deliver funding to colleges quickly. Most federal aid is now routed through students, and Hartle said there’s no existing process to disburse money to institutions as quickly as they now need it.

— By Collin Binkley

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CASINOS

The American Gaming Association says the casino industry has been pushed into a near standstill by the pandemic, as states close casinos as part of their effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Bill Miller, president and CEO of the trade association, said they are seeking "direct grant assistance, loan guarantees, or meaningful refundable tax credits that can free up operating capital today" so they can support their employees.

Caroline Ponseti, a spokeswoman for the association, said the group has already contacted elected officials and plans to submit a list of specific requests quickly. "We are in regular contact with the White House and Congressional leadership and anticipate conveying a formal list in the coming days," she said.

— By Wayne Parry

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LODGING

Executives from Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Disney met with President Donald Trump at the White House Tuesday afternoon to discuss aid for the franchisees who own most U.S. hotels.

Since mid-February, U.S. hotels have lost an estimated $1.5 billion in room revenue, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a lobbying group. Those losses are rapidly accelerating, with the industry on pace to lose $1.4 billion per week.

The hotel industry expects 1 million U.S. jobs have already been eliminated or will be in the next few weeks.

In a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday, Airbnb asked for multiple tax breaks for its U.S. hosts, who are experiencing a significant loss of business.

The company is asking Congress to expand the minimal rental use tax exemption. Right now, hosts don't pay income tax for income from a residence they rent for less than 14 days. The company is asking to expand that to 60 days.

Airbnb is also asking for a tax credit or deduction for income earned by hosts and access to small business disaster loans for hosts. Congress should also give lenders tax incentives for providing low-interest loans to hosts, the company said.

Airbnb didn't provide an estimate of how much those measures would cost.

— By Dee-Ann Durbin

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SOLAR INDUSTRY

The solar power industry is asking Congress to protect clean energy. “What exact form that takes legislatively remains to be seen,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“We believe lawmakers should take a holistic approach to economic recovery, including restoring the vitality of the American clean energy economy," she said.

“At the end of 2019, the solar industry employed 250,000 American workers,” she said. “Our companies are reporting work stoppages, plummeting sales, worker absences due to family needs, and likely job losses tied to reduced economic activity.”

— By Cathy Bussewitz