Bay Area businesses can breathe a little easier with coronavirus relief funds

Congress is expected to vote and pass a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill and President Trump is expected to sign it.

The bill includes a $600 dollar direct payment to Americans making less than $75,000 a year, or couples making less than a combined $150,000. There is also an additional $600 payment for every child in those households.

The bill includes $300 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits, as well as $54 billion for K-12 public education, $10 billion for child care providers, funds for healthcare providers and renters facing eviction.

The compromise bill between Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders also includes another round of Paycheck Protection Program funds for hard-hit businesses.

"It will definitely mean a breath of fresh air - knowing we can continue," said Orinda Theater owner Derek Zemrak.

The relief bill includes $15 billion dollars nationwide, for museums, live performance venues and independently owned theaters.

Zemrak said he's been following the on-going negotiations on the bill for months, through the National Association of Theater Owners.

"Both Democrats and Republicans agreed on this early on and said part of American culture is movies and arts and performance, and we have to save it. That's what's great, that they came together and came up with this deal," Zemrak said.

Zemrak said he plans to apply for the grant money and is relieved that it is a grant, not a loan. The National Association of Theater Owners said that under the framework of the deal, independent theater owners will be able to apply for grants of up to 45 percent of their 2019 profits, to use on everything from utilities to rent to labor costs.

Another group that will benefit from federal relief funds, is the transportation sector.

The bill includes $45 billion in funds for airlines, mass transit, Amtrak and airports.

Randy Rentschler, director of legislation and Public Affairs for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said early estimates show Bay Area transit could receive about $800 million in funds.

"This is important. This is big for ridership, to keep the agencies from imploding," he said.

The MTC would to create a funding formula to allocate the funds to various transit agencies across the Bay Area. While $800 million is less money than what the federal government provided with the first Coronavirus relief package at the beginning of the pandemic, ($1.3 billion) Rentschler said every bit of government aid, helps.

He said Bay Area transit agencies are "hemorrhaging about 100 million dollars a month... These federal funds will serve as a bridge to when public transit will have the underlying sales tax base because the economy will come back."

The relief bill is a third of the size of the first federal coronavirus relief package, passed in the Spring. Jim Wilcox, Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business said the money will help stimulate the economy, but more federal aid will be needed in the months ahead.

"I think there will be a compromise for more aid, because as the winter rolls along it will be all-too-obvious there will still be a lot of pain," Wilcox said. "I think there's no doubt it is a good thing to have this current package passed. It provides a lot of help for tens of millions of people."

Democratic congressional leaders have said their goal is to pass an additional relief bill once President-elect Joe Biden takes office and a new Congress is sworn-in in January.