Whether they work on farms, in restaurants, on ranches, in parks, in schools or elsewhere, 1,703 South Dakotans filed unemployment claims last week — a ninefold increase from the 190 who sought help the previous week.

Now workers and entrepreneurs across the state are waiting to see if the federal government comes through with the planned $2 trillion stimulus plan, which passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 96-0. It would provide $1,200 payments to individual taxpayers and render an additional $600 per week in unemployment compensation for those out of work, in addition to yielding a host of other items for businesses, governments and individuals.

In the meantime, Gov. Kristi Noem said the effects of COVID-19 will likely cause South Dakota’s labor report to get a lot worse before it gets better.

“One thing I want to prepare you for is that we are seeing almost that number of unemployment claims per day this week,” Noem said during her Thursday news conference at the State Capitol in Pierre.

“Expect big, huge numbers next week and people signing up for unemployment because, literally, our economic activity in the state has dropped to almost nothing,” Noem added.

Indeed, as COVID-19 continues crashing both the national and state economies, Noem hopes the $2 trillion (that’s $2,000,000,000,000) economic stimulus plan comes to fruition.

For some perspective, President Donald Trump in February proposed spending $4.8 trillion for the entire fiscal 2021 budget.

Noem’s former House of Representatives rival — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — is expected to begin considering the legislation today. It is formally known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“I have spent a lot of time over the recent day or two, talking to our federal delegation about the CARES Act,” Noem said Thursday. “It’s incredibly important for South Dakota. There will be revenues that will be coming to our state that will help us pay for some of the costs in response to COVID-19 in the state.”

Senate Action

After plenty of negotiating among Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., the Senate managed to pass the CARES Act by a vote of 96-0. Those not voting included U.S. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and John Thune, R-S.D.

“I felt under the weather this morning and, out of an abundance of caution, thought it was the responsible decision to avoid contact with my colleagues on Capitol Hill,” Thune stated late Wednesday regarding missing the vote.

Thune, however, made it clear he supports the measure.

“The CARES Act will put emergency cash into the hands of American families and workers who need it the most, and it will deliver relief to small businesses to help them and their workers weather this storm. It will take meaningful steps to help stabilize an uneasy economy, provide significant resources to support state unemployment programs, and most importantly, it will continue to deliver resources to the health care workers fighting to stop this pandemic,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., supported the legislation.

“It is not a perfect bill, but it gets resources to state and local governments, who know the needs of their communities better than anyone else. It also removes regulatory barriers so businesses can get people the help they need during this time of crisis,” Rounds said. “We understand the seriousness of initiating legislation of this magnitude.”

Trump enthusiastically tweeted after the vote: “96-0 in the United States Senate. Congratulations AMERICA!”

However, there is no guarantee of passage in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, as some left-wing members have made it clear they are not pleased. One of them is U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who is much more commonly known simply as “AOC.”

“What Trump + Senate GOP have done is hold hospitals, working people, and the vulnerable hostage so they could get in $500 billion (that will be leveraged into $4T) in corporate welfare. Without the Wall St giveaway, GOP refuses to fund hospitals & unemployment. It’s inhumane,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

Nevertheless, Pelosi said her chamber will begin considering the legislation today.

“Science is an answer to our prayers,” Pelosi added in commenting on COVID-19.

“Turbulent markets leave many things uncertain, but producers deserved a seat at the table, and that’s why we successfully fought for emergency relief for farmers and cattlemen facing unpredictable markets during the COVID-19 outbreak,” U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., added.

What’s In It?

According to Thune, the legislation as currently exists would do all of the following:

Provide direct cash payments of up to $1,200 for most individual taxpayers and $2,400 for most married couples who file jointly. Those amounts would increase by $500 for every eligible child;

Support states’ unemployment programs by providing an additional $600 per week, per person in unemployment compensation benefits and an additional 13 weeks of eligibility;

Waive the 10% early withdrawal penalty for distributions up to $100,000 from qualified retirement accounts for coronavirus-related purposes;

Delay payments for employer-side payroll taxes;

Provide support to businesses and industries that have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak – through no fault of their own – to help ensure workers have jobs to return to after this crisis subsides;

Offer forgivable loans to small businesses that retain their employees throughout this crisis;

Temporarily enact provisions of the Employer Participation in Repayment Act, which would allow employers to contribute up to $5,250 tax-free to help pay down their employees’ student loans;

Provide $117 billion to our nation’s health care community, including veterans’ health, to support doctors, hospitals and other health care professionals who are on the front lines of this battle, as well as temporary relief from the Medicare sequester, temporary expansion of a Medicare-accelerated payment program to help rural hospitals, and increased Medicare reimbursement for coronavirus care;

Increase access to needed health care services via telehealth for community health centers, rural health clinics, home health, hospice, and home dialysis throughout the duration of the coronavirus emergency;

Advance the principles of value-based insurance design by allowing pre-deductible coverage of telehealth services for patients who have high-deductible health plans;

Extend reimbursement relief for durable medical equipment providers, whose products patients rely on to transition from hospital to home, throughout the duration of the coronavirus emergency;

Extend several expiring health care policies, such as funding for community health centers and the Special Diabetes Program through Nov. 30;

and Replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation and provide an additional $9.5 billion that will allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support farmers and ranchers, including livestock producers.

“We are not going to be out of the woods here in South Dakota in a week or two. We are going to have to sustain the activities that we have at this state for at least another eight weeks, maybe longer,” Noem cautioned South Dakotans on Thursday.

Staff Writer Joseph Barkoff contributed to this report.

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