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Neal says added financial relief possible for families

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PITTSFIELD — Even $2.2 trillion may not be enough to help Americans and businesses survive economic arrest due to the coronavirus, the region's voice in Congress said Saturday.

"This is an international pandemic and I think taking the necessary steps here to provide help and to provide economic support for the American family is really important," U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, said in a conference call with reporters.

On Friday, Neal, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, joined with House members to pass a third coronavirus relief measure, a package worth $2.2 trillion.

A day later, Neal echoed Speaker Nancy Pelosi's prediction that Congress will need to do more.

"It is likely, almost certainly, that we will have a phase four stimulus measure and maybe phase five depending on what subsequent months look like," Neal said. "The idea here is that this would be far worse if we didn't get this money into the hands of people that need it right now."

Neal credited Congress with overcoming partisan divides to move the CARES Act — the largest financial stimulus in U.S. history — through both houses in roughly a week.

"I think the partisanship was cast to the side and I think we did exactly what the American people expected us to do," Neal said. "Yesterday was a remarkable moment in the years that I've served."

But that unity could be tested by measures to allocate more money, as conservative lawmakers question the spending's size and efficacy. The CARES Act amounts to nearly half the proposed 2021 federal budget of $4.83 trillion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called it a "wartime level of investment."

"Anybody who questions how fast the Congress can act had a chance to witness it yesterday," Neal said. "I think everybody recognized the dimension of the national challenge."

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Neal said the law, signed Friday by President Trump, will help build public confidence that what he termed "economic contagion" can be contained.

He said lawmakers want to provide relief for people unable to pay bills, due to workplace closings across the U.S. The law provides incentives to employers — in the form of loans that would convert to grants — not to resort to layoffs.

"One of our key considerations here was to keep people working," Neal said.

For those laid off, the law expands by four months the eligibility period for jobless benefits. The act also provides help to people left out of earlier federal stimulus programs, including "gig" workers and those holding multiple part-time jobs, Neal said. He said people who have had work hours reduced will be able to see those earnings restored.

Single adults with yearly incomes up to $75,000 will receive checks for $1,200. That amount doubles for couples filing jointly with income up to $150,000. Lawmakers used those figures in part to position the payments not only as family relief but, if spent soon, as a national economic stimulus.

"It would be people who would use that for day-to-day necessities," he said.

Any future legislation, Neal said, will likely further support to hospitals and health care organizations.

"People on the front line are a major concern obviously to all of us right now and to those who are being treated for the virus," he said.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


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