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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Durbin: State Aid Negotiations To Continue After Relief Bill Passage

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Charlie Schlenker
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WGLT
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters during an online news conference the pandemic relief bill is the second largest aid package ever passed by Congress.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Tuesday he believes the issue of direct pandemic relief aid for states, cities, and small units of government will come back, after it was not included in the $900 billion package Congress just approved.

The Illinois Democrat said during an online news conference the Biden camp has a different position than the Trump administration on that aid.

"The difficulty if we don't, is that these units of government will have to lay off firefighters, policemen, health care workers, teachers; that's exactly the wrong thing at this moment in history," said Durbin.

Republicans have argued direct state aid is a bailout for blue states with pension problems. But Durbin said the aid would be limited to damages caused by the pandemic, and the formula to calculate relief amounts for states would not reward mismanagement.

Republicans were disappointed the relief bill did not include liability protection for businesses operating during the pandemic. Durbin said relief bill negotiators could not agree on precise language on that issue, but he does not dismiss the concern.

"I'm ready to help businesses and want to make sure that we give them an opportunity if they have done their best and followed the standards that were publicized, and tried to protect their employees and their customers, then they shouldn't have to worry about a lawsuit," said Durbin.

He said only a few hundred such lawsuits have been filed in the U.S, contending the issue will likely not become widespread because it's tough to prove responsibility for someone getting sick when the virus is invisible and so widespread.

Durbin said the relief measure does not include all he wanted, but it does provide support for many areas.

The bill includes $300 a week in unemployment benefits for nearly 400,000 Illinoisans and up to $600 in direct payments for adults and children. SNAP benefits will increase 15% for close to two million residents of the state.

“It is a dramatic bill and the omnibus spending bill for the next year as well,” said Durbin. “It’s good for Illinois, in fact it’s very good.”

The package also has money for efforts such as Paycheck Protection Program loans, Economic Injury Disaster loans and other emergency relief.

“We made a massive investment in rescuing businesses, almost $300 billion dollars in forgivable loans to businesses that will apply again, we especially wanted to help the restaurant industry, they’ve been hurt very hard,” said Durbin.

Also, $15 billion will be available for live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions.

After stalling for months, the proposal came alive again over Thanksgiving when a group of centrist bipartisan senators that included Durbin met at Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski’s Washington residence.

“We started with eight of us going to dinner socially distanced … and decided to have a go at it. That was about three or four weeks ago. And then another half dozen senators joined us in the process,” said Durbin. “Senators kept coming up to me on the floor after they saw our work product and said, ‘I want to be in the next round.’”

Durbin held out hope that centrist negotiators could become more common as a way out of legislative thickets.

“That’s a good thing. To have a grass roots bipartisan effort in the Senate is refreshing after we were stalled for so many years getting little or nothing done. I think this can be a force for change,” he said.

Durbin noted the bill is the second largest relief package ever passed by Congress, behind only the initial pandemic measure, the CARES Act.

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