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Visitors to the New York Department of Labor are turned away at the door due to closures over coronavirus concerns. (AP) Visitors to the New York Department of Labor are turned away at the door due to closures over coronavirus concerns. (AP)

Visitors to the New York Department of Labor are turned away at the door due to closures over coronavirus concerns. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson March 31, 2020

Facebook post shortchanges relief bill’s assistance for laid-off workers

If Your Time is short

• The post accurately cites several provisions that are in the coronavirus relief bill passed in late March.

• But it’s misleading to suggest the financial needs of a laid-off waitress aren’t addressed in the bill.

• An unemployed waitress would get both a $1,200 check and a $600-a-week increase in unemployment benefits.

It didn’t take long after the enactment of a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill for critics to blame Democrats for larding it with unnecessary spending.

One Facebook post that was shared at least 15,000 times features a photograph of a smiling, young waitress.

The text says: "I lost my job. But I'll sleep better knowing: $25 million of (coronavirus) relief aid went to the Kennedy Center. $350,000,000 went to refugee resettlement. $75 million went to PBS. $25 million went to congressional salaries and expenses. Thanks, Democrats. It couldn't have happened without you."

Some of this text in the post accurately describes elements included in the final version of the bill. However, it also includes some inaccuracies, and the broader depiction of the bill — in which laid-off workers get nothing, at the expense of special interests — is significantly skewed.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

We’ll take a look at the text, piece by piece.

"$25 million of (coronavirus) relief aid went to the Kennedy Center." 

This is accurate. The funding would go for such purposes as "deep cleaning," maintenance, telework upgrades, employee compensation, rent and utilities for the performing arts center. The Kennedy Center is a federal entity funded by ticket revenue and congressional appropriations, so receiving funding through a congressional bill isn’t unusual.

In a statement, the Democratic House leadership said that the Kennedy Center has lost more than $20 million in unrecoverable costs from canceled performances and has lost the ability to generate revenue from ticket sales in the interim. "Without the assistance in the bill, the Kennedy Center would become completely insolvent and potentially unable to reopen," the statement said. 

"$350,000,000 went to refugee resettlement."

If "refugee resettlement" is supposed to mean resettling refugees in the United States, that’s not entirely accurate. The bill doesn’t say specifically where the $350 million earmarked for "Department of State migration and refugee assistance" will go, but much of it may end up as humanitarian assistance to other countries as they grapple with internal displacement of individuals and families due to the virus.

Indeed, the Trump administration’s State Department touted its role in this regard as recently as a March 27 news release.

"The U.S. Government is leading the world’s humanitarian and health assistance response to the COVID-19 pandemic," the release said, citing an initial investment of $274 million for other countries in need, plus the World Health Organization and UNICEF, prior to passage of the relief bill. "We are mobilizing all necessary resources to respond rapidly, both at home and abroad."

"$75 million went to PBS."

This is broadly accurate. The funding is for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which in turn funds public broadcasters such as PBS.

The bill provides "stabilization support" for stations seeing declines in non-federal revenues. "Public media stations are the backbone for most communities’ emergency alert, public safety, first-responder and homeland-security services," the Democratic leadership statement said. "If stations are forced to cut jobs, reduce content and services, or close, the nation’s ability to deliver emergency alerts will be significantly diminished."

As with the money for the Kennedy Center, it is standard practice for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to receive its funding from congressional legislation.

"$25 million went to congressional salaries and expenses."

Social media users might think this refers to a pay boost for lawmakers, but we’ve previously rated that assertion Pants on Fire.

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Hollander said there is $25 million for the House in the stimulus to support the chamber’s "capability to telework," including equipment purchases and improvements to the computer network.

There is also money to reimburse the staff of the House Child Care Center, cover the costs of food service contracts and pay the House sergeant-at-arms.

Separately, the Senate is slated to get $10 million from the stimulus; $1 million will go to the sergeant-at-arms’ office to remain available for coronavirus response, while $9 million will be reserved for "miscellaneous items," including reimbursement for workers at the Senate Employee Child Care Center.

None of the money in the bill would go toward paying lawmakers anything more than their current salary level.

"Thanks, Democrats"

While some of these provisions mirror elements of a bill offered by House Democrats, that bill never received consideration. Instead, the Senate and the House passed a bill drawn up by leading senators of both parties. 

The Senate passed the bill 96-0, while the House approved it by a voice vote, a method used for widely supported measures. Because almost all members of both parties approved the bills, Republicans and Democrats alike deserve whatever credit or blame comes from the bill.

The implication that laid-off workers get no assistance

The biggest misleading element of the post is the notion that the laid-off waitress will get nothing out of the bill. That couldn’t be more wrong.

First, assuming she earns less than $75,000 a year, she’ll get $1,200 tax-free from the government, no strings attached.

Second, the bill includes historically generous add-on amounts to state unemployment payments.

The bill sets aside $260 billion to increase state unemployment payments by $600 a week, or the equivalent of more than $30,000 a year. If the state gives you $400 a week, a fairly typical amount, then you’ll be getting a total of $1,000 a week, or the equivalent of $52,000 a year. (If you made less than this before you lost your job, you’ll actually be earning more than you did previously, at least during the four months provided for in the bill.)

The bill also incentivizes states to waive waiting periods for receiving benefits, and provides funds for states to lengthen the time limits for receiving their unemployment benefits by 13 weeks.

Meanwhile, in a landmark move, the bill recognizes that gig workers — from freelancers to Uber drivers — need economic assistance in times like these. So they will qualify for the enhanced unemployment provisions in the new bill. 

Our ruling

A Facebook post shows a waitress saying, "I lost my job. But I'll sleep better knowing" that the coronavirus relief bill included funding for the Kennedy Center, refugee resettlement, PBS, and congressional salaries: "Thanks, Democrats."

While the post oversimplifies some of those provisions, they are indeed part of the bill. 

However, the post gives the strong impression that the bill offers nothing to laid-off workers, and that’s flat wrong. Every American earning less than the income caps will get a $1,200 check, and anyone who starts drawing unemployment payments will see those topped up by additional federal payments of $600 a month.

Also, the bill that was passed received almost blanket support from both Republicans and Democrats.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

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Facebook post shortchanges relief bill’s assistance for laid-off workers

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