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Taiwan donating 100,000 masks to Colorado, senator says

Taiwan has pledged to donate 100,000 masks to Colorado as part of a larger donation of medical equipment to the United States, a Colorado senator says.

Sen. Cory Gardner, a Yuma Republican, announced Wednesday that the Asian ally will donate 2 million masks to the United States, half of which will go to the federal government and the other half to individual states. Colorado will receive 10% of the 1 million masks being sent directly to states.

The masks are expected to arrive in Colorado next week, according to Gardner.

“It has been an honor to work with President Tsai (Ing-wen) to advance the friendship between the U.S. and Taiwan, and I would like to thank all of Taiwan on behalf of the medical professionals in Colorado who desperately need the masks that Taiwan is graciously donating,” Gardner said in a statement.

“Taiwan is more than willing to help the world beat the COVID-19 pandemic, and this incredible act of generosity is further reason that Taiwan should be granted observer status at the World Health Organization,” the senator added.

Taiwan’s president visited Denver last summer and was greeted by a large group of supporters, along with a handful of pro-China protesters. Gardner, who chairs a Senate subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, was also in attendance.

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Pelosi wants 'vote by mail' provisions in next coronavirus bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday she hopes “vote by mail” provisions can be part of the next coronavirus response plan being put together by House Democrats.

Speaking in a conference call, Pelosi said at least $2 billion was needed to enable voting by mail, in order to give citizens a safe way to vote during the coronavirus pandemic. She said Democrats had gotten just $400 million for that purpose in a recent bill.

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Coronavirus: ‘Concerning’ rise in car journeys as people urged to stay at home

A “concerning” rise in car journeys has sparked fresh warnings for people to stay at home during the coronavirus lockdown.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, revealed motor vehicle usage in Britain has jumped to around a third of usual levels.

Despite a gradual drop off to 27% on Sunday, the number leaped by 10% to 37% in a single day.

Bus and underground journeys in London also rose, but National Rail train usage dipped slightly compared to the latest figures.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing, Dr Doyle said that while “most people” are following the rules to stay at home “everyone needs to do that” because “we need to save lives and protect the NHS” during the COVID-19 outbreak.

She also revealed a “slightly concerning” rise of new UK cases on Wednesday by 390 to 3,009.

“It’s still too early to say whether the plateau of hospital admissions has ended but we’ve now seen three days of increases in a row,” she explained.

“We need to protect the NHS, and the best way to do that is to stay at home, to avoid catching the disease yourself and obviously avoid giving it to anyone else.”

She added that although most of the people being admitted to hospital for coronavirus are in London, the Midlands is becoming “a concern as well”, warning: “The threat is everywhere… There is no reason to be complacent.”

Globally, the UK has started pushing up towards the deaths trajectory experienced in Italy.

The latest figures announced on Wednesday said another 563 people died in the UK after testing positive for coronavirus – bringing the total number of deaths to 2,352.

More follows…

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Trump administration rules gun shops “essential” amid coronavirus – The Denver Post

The Trump administration has ruled that gun shops are considered “essential” businesses that should remain open as other businesses are closed to try to stop the spread of coronavirus. Gun control groups are balking, calling it a policy that puts profits over public health after intense lobbying by the firearms industry.

In the past several weeks, various states and municipalities have offered different interpretations of whether gun stores should be allowed to remain open as Americans stay at home to avoid spreading the virus. In Los Angeles, for example, County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has twice ordered gun shops in his territory to close, leading to legal challenges from gun rights advocates.

After days of lobbying by the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and other gun groups, the Department of Homeland Security this past weekend issued an advisory declaring that firearms dealers should be considered essential services — just like grocery stores, pharmacies and hospitals — and allowed to remain open. The agency said its ruling was not a mandate but merely guidance for cities, towns and states as they weigh how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Still, gun control groups called it a move to put profits over public health. The Brady group on Monday filed a Freedom of Information request with DHS seeking emails and documents that explain how the agency reached its decision to issue the advisory and to determine if it consulted with any public health experts.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

“The gun lobby is not willing to stand for a few days or a few weeks of less profit in order to protect public health, and it’s outrageous and definitely not required by the Second Amendment,” said Jonathan Lowy, chief counsel for Brady. He added later: “It’s a public health issue, not a Second Amendment issue. The fact is that guns, the nature of guns, require that they be sold with a lot of close interaction. They can’t be sold from vending machines, can’t be sold with curbside pickup.”

The gun lobby has been pushing back vigorously against places where some authorities have deemed federally licensed gun dealers are not essential and should close as part of stay-at-home directives. The gun lobby has said it’s critical these shops remain open so Americans, who are buying firearms in record numbers, have the ability to exercise their constitutional rights.

In recent weeks, firearm sales have skyrocketed. Background checks — the key barometer of gun sales — already were at record numbers in January and February, likely fueled by a presidential election year. Since the coronavirus outbreak, gun shops have reported long lines and runs on firearms and ammunition.

Background checks were up 300% on March 16, compared with the same date a year ago, according to federal data shared with the NSSF, which represents gunmakers. Since Feb. 23, each day has seen roughly double the volume over 2019, according to Mark Oliva, spokesman for the group.

In Texas, the attorney general there issued a legal opinion saying that emergency orders shuttering gun shops are unconstitutional. That stands in contrast to some municipalities, such as New Orleans, where the mayor has issued an emergency proclamation that declares the authority to restrict sales of firearms and ammunition.

NSSF and other gun lobbying groups hailed the ruling as a victory for gun owners, especially first-time buyers of a firearm who are concerned that upheaval and turmoil over the virus could affect personal safety.

“We have seen over the past week hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Americans choosing to exercise their right to keep and bear arms to ensure their safety and the safety of loved ones during these uncertain times,” said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for NSSF. “Americans must not be denied the ability to exercise that right to lawfully purchase and acquire firearms during times of emergency.”

Brady’s Lowy said it shouldn’t be considered a violation of Second Amendment rights since it’s temporary and in the midst of a pandemic. He likened it to constitutional rights to peaceably assemble, a right that is being curtailed at the moment as Americans practice social distancing.

“If you have a gun in the home, you are exercising your Second Amendment rights. No court has held that you have a Second Amendment right to a stockpile of guns,” he said.

The vast majority of states are allowing gun shops to remain open. However, some states that have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus have ruled that gun shops are not essential and should close. In the absence of a mandate from federal authorities, gun groups have been filing lawsuits challenging state and local authorities who are ordering gun shops and ranges to close.

The NRA thanked President Donald Trump for the DHS ruling. The NRA has been an unflinching backer of Trump, pumping about $30 million toward his 2016 campaign.

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Colorado’s Gardner and Bennet vote for massive economic stimulus

The U.S. Senate, with the approval of Colorado’s senators, passed the largest economic stimulus package in American history late Wednesday night, an approximately $2 trillion boost to workers, businesses, corporations and the health care system.

The legislation passed by a vote of 96-0, with aye votes from Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and Sen. Michael Bennet, a Denver Democrat. Both Colorado senators made clear earlier in the day that they supported the massive agreement.

“It needs to pass now. It should have passed days ago,” Gardner said in a speech on the Senate floor, after emerging from self-quarantine because he came in contact with a coronavirus patient. “I don’t think the American people give a hoot whether this idea was a Republican idea or this idea was a Democrat idea.”

The senator, who faces re-election in November, made repeated pleas for unity during his speech and predicted there will be further legislation to deal with the dire economic fallout from coronavirus and the business closures it has caused.

“This country’s been through the Great Depression. We’ve been through the Great Recession. We will make it through the Great Infection. That’s what we do as a country. That’s who we are as a people,” Gardner said.

Before the vote, Gardner and Bennet voted against an amendment from Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., to cap unemployment benefits at a worker’s full salary.

In remarks Wednesday, Bennet criticized Senate Republicans for not including a $600-per-week unemployment insurance increase, which was later added at the request of Senate Democrats. He also credited Democrats with adding money for the health care system, middle-class Americans and lower-class Americans.

“States and local governments not only have to fight this health crisis, they have to pay teachers, police and firefighters, even as their tax revenues collapse,” Bennet said in a lengthy statement. “The initial bill included nothing to help them confront these yawning budget caps. It was ridiculous.”

“Too many people played politics and peddled misinformation this week,” Bennet added. “We fought to keep this plan focused on supercharging our health care response, while providing much-needed support to workers, families and businesses.”

The bill now goes to the House, where it’s expected to pass Friday. Rep. Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican who has opposed coronavirus response bills this month, criticized the latest bill Wednesday and signaled he will vote against it.

“This ‘coronavirus response’ package has special carve-outs of $75 million for public broadcasting and $50 million for museums and libraries,” Buck, who leads the Colorado Republican Party, said on Twitter. “That’s $125 million for pet projects instead of for struggling families and businesses. Democrats are again exploiting a crisis to fund their liberal wish list.”

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Coronavirus: MPs demand ‘Army-style’ compensation for NHS workers who die from COVID-19

A group of 50 MPs have written to Boris Johnson to call for compensation for the families of those who lose their lives on the frontline of the battle against coronavirus.

At the weekend, NHS consultant Amged El-Hawrani – an ear, nose and throat specialist – was confirmed as the first frontline hospital worker in the UK to die after contracting coronavirus.

Two other doctors – Dr Habib Zaidi, a GP from Essex, and Dr Adil El Tayar, an organ transplant specialist who had been volunteering in an A&E department in the West Midlands – are also reported to have died with COVID-19 symptoms.

In their letter to the prime minister, which has also been signed by 1,150 members of the public, the cross-party group of MPs called for a compensation scheme similar to that offered to by the Armed Forces.

They said the families of those who lose their lives should be offered a lump sum, a guaranteed income, and child payments to eligible children under the age of 18.

The government should also offer a contribution towards funeral costs, the MPs said.

They want the compensation scheme to be open to the families of those classified as key workers, such as NHS and social care staff as well as teachers.

Their letter states: “Those on the frontline of this battle against coronavirus are heroes.

“However, the risks to themselves and their families that they are taking on a daily basis are not recognised as much as they should be.

“They are putting their lives on the line, and we believe that they deserve to be protected.

“Just like members of our Armed Forces, they should know that if the worst happens, the state will help their families.

“It is what they need, and what they deserve.”

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Labour elects new leader: A look back at Jeremy Corbyn’s highs and lows

Jeremy Corbyn has been a mainstay throughout a turbulent four-and-a-half years years for the UK and the Labour Party.

But his meteoric rise to frontline politics will be remembered for its own volatility.

As the Labour leader stands down after losing the 2019 general election and a new leader is elected this weekend, Sky News looks back at his highs and lows.

3 June 2015 HIGH: Enters Labour leadership race

Jeremy Corbyn – a veteran left-wing backbencher – joined the race to succeed Ed Miliband as Labour leader in June 2015.

The Islington North MP promised to stand on a “clear anti-austerity platform” and to “give Labour Party members a voice in this debate”.

His first hurdle was to gain the backing of at least 35 Labour MPs in order to make the final leadership ballot.

Mr Corbyn managed this with just minutes to spare and was helped by around 15 MPs who – despite not supporting his leadership bid – nonetheless lent him their support in an attempt to widen the debate.

These included former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett and Sadiq Khan, who would go on to become London mayor.

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Coronavirus emerges as major threat to U.S. election process

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. election officials looking to construct a safe voting system in a worsening coronavirus pandemic are confronting a grim reality: there may not be enough time, money or political will to make it happen by the November election.

The possibility the pandemic could last into the fall, or flare again as millions of voters are set to choose the nation’s next president, has state and local officials scrambling for alternatives to help keep voters safe.

The most-discussed proposals are to make mail-in voting available to all eligible voters nationwide, and to expand early in-person voting to limit the crowds on Election Day.

But election officials say those changes will be costly and complex in a country where traditional voting remains ingrained. About six of every 10 ballots were cast in person on Election Day in 2016, Census data shows.

Democrats fell far short in their effort to include at least $2 billion to help virus-proof the November elections as part of a $2.2-trillion coronavirus stimulus bill that was passed by the U.S. House on Friday. The package devotes $400 million to bolster vote by mail and early voting, expand facilities and hire more poll workers.

“Congress failed to include sufficient, urgently needed funds in the stimulus to help states run elections in a time of pandemic,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. “This could wreak havoc in November.”

Republicans opposed to spending big on balloting changes viewed it as an attempt by Democrats to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on states. Democrats said the price tag reflected the enormity of the task of safeguarding the vote during a pandemic.

Benjamin Hovland, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which provides resources and information to election officials nationwide, said the change requires planning – and time is running out.

“You can’t just flip a switch and vote by mail, this is a very involved process,” Hovland said. “A lot of what is possible in November will be determined now.”

Some officials in both parties still worry they could lose out in a nationwide vote-by-mail system.

Democrats fear it could disenfranchise minorities and low-income voters who tend to move more frequently or lack reliable access to mail service. Republicans cite concerns about voter fraud, and they worry that older voters confused by a new voting system and rural residents with slow mail delivery could be left out.

Fears about the outbreak, which has now infected more than 85,000 Americans and killed over 1,200, have started to affect Americans’ intentions to vote. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken March 18-24, 63% of adults questioned said they were “completely certain” to vote in November. But that figure dropped to 56% when the respondents were asked to project their behavior if coronavirus were still a factor on Election Day.

“If nothing changes by November, there will be a lot of voters who are disenfranchised,” said Sylvia Albert, voting and elections director for good-government watchdog Common Cause.

The health crisis has already upended the Democratic race to pick a challenger to face incumbent Republican President Donald Trump.

Three states scheduled to proceed with their April 4 Democratic nominating contests – Wyoming, Hawaii and Alaska – have scrapped in-person voting entirely and will only permit voting by mail. Ohio and at least eight other states pushed their primaries back to May or June.

Postponement looks unlikely for the November presidential election, which is set by law and would require action by Congress to move.

“The election is going to happen in November, so we have to put the procedures in place now to make sure it happens safely and fairly,” said Jonathan Diaz, legal counsel for voting rights at the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center.

‘MASSIVE EDUCATION CAMPAIGN’

Introducing a vote-by-mail system in new locales will require election officials to pay for new paper ballots and thick security envelopes, and to buy expensive new machines to sort and tabulate them.

But one of the biggest challenges will be familiarizing people with a new way of voting in a very short time, said Tina Barton, the city clerk and chief elections official in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

“It’s going to take a massive education campaign not only to train all your clerks on a new process but also to educate voters,” Barton said.

The Brennan Center estimated the cost of ensuring vote-by-mail was available for all voters could be up to $1.4 billion, with postage alone costing $600 million.

Hovland of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission said he has gotten so many questions from election administrators about making the transition that he recorded a video conference with local officials in Washington, California and Utah who supervise mail-in ballot systems so they could share their tips with others.

Currently, every state allows some voters to cast ballots sent through the mail. Five states – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington – conduct elections entirely by mail.

But rules differ from state to state. Some states provide postage-paid envelopes. Others do not. Most allow no-excuse absentee voting. Others require a specific reason for not showing up at the polls, such as an illness or travel.

Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill said the state’s Constitution allows absentee voting only in limited circumstances; a pandemic is not one of them.

Merrill has urged Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Ned Lamont to issue an executive order permitting those worried about going to the polls during the outbreak to obtain absentee ballots. He hasn’t announced a decision.

“We’re stuck,” Merrill said. “We have unique problems, and I think it would be extremely difficult to get this implemented by the fall.”

‘NON-PARTISAN’ PROBLEM

The proposed changes to the nation’s voting system ahead of November’s election have triggered partisan suspicions among both Democrats and Republicans.

In Pennsylvania, a key presidential battleground, a local Democratic Party official said he worried widespread use of mail-in balloting might lower participation among low- to moderate-income Democrats who are more transient.

“There’s no doubt, here at least, that it would favor Republicans, who are more affluent and more stable in their lives,” said Ed Hozza, Democratic chairman in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh County.

Voting rights advocates in Arizona, which Democrats have targeted as a potential swing state, worry voting by mail could disenfranchise Native Americans who live on reservations inside the state’s boundaries.

People who live on tribal lands often lack a traditional street address. Just one-quarter of Native Americans in Arizona have a postal service address, and many speakers of non-written tribal languages rely on assistance from translators at in-person polling locations, said Alex Gulotta, the Arizona state director of All Voting is Local, a voter protection group.

“The solution can’t be simplistic — it needs to have some complexity to meet the needs of constituent groups that would be harmed by all-mail voting,” he said.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, has urged Arizona lawmakers to authorize “all-mail” elections this year, a method the state normally uses only in small jurisdictional elections.

Republicans, too, have concerns mail-in balloting might depress turnout among one of their most reliable voting blocs: rural Americans. Mail service is spotty in some far-flung parts of the country, making it potentially harder for rural-dwellers to participate.

Republican leaders traditionally have resisted more lenient rules on casting ballots. Many cite the potential for voter fraud, a concern that election experts say is not supported by evidence. Still, some Republicans have moved to loosen the restrictions on voting by mail in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, a Republican, said his office would increase the use of absentee ballots for the state’s May 12 primary. And in Georgia, every active voter will be mailed an absentee ballot request form for the May 19 primary to encourage voting amid the pandemic, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said recently.

The danger the virus poses to voters of all stripes has increased pressure on officials to take action, said Trevor Potter, a Republican former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and president of the Campaign Legal Center.

“This is a non-partisan, non-discriminatory problem that faces both sides,” Potter said.

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Commercial properties such as hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions need not pay property taxes for 2020 as part of Covid-19 aid

SINGAPORE – Owners of commercial properties that have been badly affected by the coronavirus outbreak will not need to pay property taxes for 2020.

Such properties include hotels, serviced apartments, tourist attractions, shops and restaurants, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament on Thursday (March 26) as he announced a Supplementary Budget to combat the worsening Covid-19 outbreak.

The move, which is a big step up from the 15 per cent to 30 per cent property tax rebates announced in last month’s Budget, is meant to help landlords with business costs during the economic downturn.

“Where the cost is within the Government’s control, we will do our best to help,” said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

A property tax rebate of 30 per cent for 2020 will also be granted for all other non-residential properties, such as offices and industrial properties.

In announcing the $48 billion Supplementary Budget on Thursday, Mr Heng urged landlords to fully pass on the rebate to tenants, such as by reducing rentals to ease tenants’ cash flow and cost pressures.

“Many businesses have pointed out that it will be a lose-lose situation if landlords do not support their tenants. After all, if tenants fail, the properties will be empty.

“So my message to landlords is: Do your part, chip in, and give additional help to tenants who are more badly hit,” he said.

This comes after some tenants and associations pointed out that the earlier round of rebates were not passed on by their landlords.

The Restaurant Association of Singapore, for instance, said that not all food and beverage operators have seen the rental rebates promised by landlords.

Retail and food and beverage spaces were granted a 15 per cent rebate at the Budget statement last month. Properties such as hotels, serviced apartments and convention venues were given a rebate of 30 per cent.

In response, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said in Parliament earlier this month that while some landlords “have proactively gone out of their way to share the rebates”, others “are still taking a bit of time to roll out their packages”.

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Factbox: What's in the $2.2 trillion Senate coronavirus rescue package

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously approved an unprecedented stimulus package to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are major elements of the plan. Cost estimates are provided by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

DIRECT PAYMENTS TO AMERICANS

Direct payments of up to $1,200 each to millions of Americans, with additional payments of $500 per child. Payments would be phased out for those earning more than $75,000 a year. Those earning more than $99,000 would not be eligible.

Estimated cost: $290 billion

ENHANCED UNEMPLOYMENT AID

Payments for jobless workers would increase by $600 per week. Laid-off workers would get those payments for up to four months. Regular benefits, which typically run out after six months in most states, would be extended for an additional 13 weeks.

Self-employed workers, independent contractors and those who typically don’t qualify for unemployment benefits would be eligible. The government would also partially make up wages for workers whose hours are scaled back, in an effort to encourage employers to avoid layoffs.

Estimated cost: $260 billion

SMALL BUSINESS LOANS AND GRANTS

Loans for businesses that have fewer than 500 employees could be partially forgiven if they are used for employee salaries, rent, mortgage interest and utility costs. The bill also includes emergency grants for small business.

Estimated cost: $377 billion.

AID TO AIRLINES, LARGE BUSINESSES

The bill sets up a fund to support a new Federal Reserve program that offers up to $4.5 trillion in loans to businesses, states and cities that can’t get financing through other means.

Companies tapping the fund would not be able to engage in stock buybacks and would have to retain at least 90% of their employees through the end of September. They would not be able to boost executive pay by more than $425,000 annually, and those earning more than $3 million a year could see their salaries reduced.

The fund would be overseen by an inspector general and a congressional oversight board. The Treasury secretary would have to disclose transactions.

Businesses owned by President Donald Trump, other administration officials or Congress members, or their family members, would not be eligible for assistance.

Loans are set aside for airlines, air cargo carriers, airline contractors and “businesses important to maintaining national security,” widely understood to be Boeing Co (BA.N).

Total cost: $504 billion

GRANTS FOR AIRLINES

Airlines, air cargo carries and airline contractors also could get grants to cover payroll costs. They would have to maintain service and staffing levels, and would not be able to buy back stock or pay dividends. The U.S. government could get stock or other equity in return. Executive pay above $425,000 a year would be frozen for two years, and those who earn more than $3 million annually would see their salaries reduced.

Total cost: $32 billion

MONEY FOR STATES, HOSPITALS, EDUCATION

– $150 billion for state, local and Native American tribal governments

– $100 billion for hospitals and other elements of the healthcare system

– $16 billion for ventilators, masks and other medical supplies

– $11 billion for vaccines and other medical preparedness

– $4.3 billion for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

– $45 billion in disaster relief

– $30 billion for education

– $25 billion for mass-transit systems

– $10 billion in borrowing authority for the U.S. Postal Service

– $1 billion for the Amtrak passenger rail service and $10 billion for airports, which are experiencing a drop in passengers

TAX CUTS

– A refundable 50 percent payroll tax credit for businesses affected by the coronavirus, to encourage employee retention. Employers would also be able to defer payment of those taxes if necessary. Cost: $67 billion

– Loosened tax deductions for interest and operating losses. Cost: $210 billion

– Suspension of penalties for people who tap their retirement funds early. Cost: $5 billion

– Tax write-offs to encourage charitable deductions and encourage employers to help pay off student loans. Cost: $3 billion

– Waiving of federal tax on distilled spirits used to make hand sanitizer

INCREASED SAFETY NET SPENDING

– $42 billion in additional spending for food stamps and child nutrition

– $12 billion for housing programs

– $45 billion for child and family services

OTHER ELEMENTS

– A ban on foreclosing on federally backed mortgages through mid-May, and a four-month ban on evictions by landlords who rely on federal housing programs.

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