U.S. Capitol Building

The U.S. Capitol Building at dusk in 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Alex Edelman/CNP/Zuma Press/TNS)

The U.S. Senate earlier this week unanimously passed a $484 billion COVID-19 relief bill, legislation members of Congress are calling “the CARES Act 2.0.”

The bill includes additional funding for many of the same areas addressed in the first version of the act and holds few new provisions, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski explained to reporters Wednesday. 

“We recognize that when we passed the first supplemental, when we passed the Families First bill and when we passed the CARES Act, we knew that we were going to be underestimating in certain areas,” she said. “We needed to do more. Whether it’s meeting the health care concerns or the economic needs, we have a lot to do.” 

Funding elements within the bill include another $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which has been emptied since its inception just weeks ago. 

“We saw a crush of demand and the funds in the PPP account were tapped out in less than two weeks,” Murkowski said. 

The funding package also makes available an additional $75 billion for hospitals across the country that are swallowing costs related to increased drain on equipment and workers as well as $25 billion for improved and increased testing practices. Another $825 million will be available for community health centers and rural health clinics.

Murkowski noted the importance of investing in more immediate testing abilities as Alaska prepares for seasonal industries such as the commercial fishing season that brings thousands of workers to central areas at once. 

Murkowski added that this will likely not be the last relief package passed by Congress related to COVID-19 but had no details on future plans. 

“The economic impact that we are seeing in this state is extraordinary and so I think we have just begun to assess the needs of the relief that is going to be required,” she said. “This was designed to be stabilization and we’re not stable yet.”

The bill passed Tuesday by the Senate mirrors the CARES Act in the absence of assistance for small legal cannabis business suffering in states like Alaska and others that have legalized recreational use and cultivation of the plant. 

The exclusion of assistance for these businesses was not intentional, Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan noted Tuesday, but rather lies within the sustained inconsistencies between federal and state law when it comes to the legality of cannabis-related businesses. Cannabis remains an illegal Schedule 1 controlled substance at the federal level.

This is an area which Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young has expressed interest in addressing. It remains unknown whether a provision of this nature will be placed into the House’s version of the bill. 

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.