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U.S. Senate Passes $484 Billion Coronavirus Aid Bill

The majority of the package applies to small business loans, with $25 billion going to coronavirus testing.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
US Senator Ben Cardin wears a mask as he speaks with the press during a pro forma session where the Senate planned to vote on a nearly $500 billion package to further aid small businesses due to COVID-19 in Washington, D.C., April 21, 2020.
US Senator Ben Cardin wears a mask as he speaks with the press during a pro forma session where the Senate planned to vote on a nearly $500 billion package to further aid small businesses due to COVID-19 in Washington, D.C., April 21, 2020. Saul Loeb / AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. Senate passes a $484 billion coronavirus aid package, oil prices continue to drop, and the World Food Programme warns of “biblical” famines.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. Senate passes a $484 billion coronavirus aid package, oil prices continue to drop, and the World Food Programme warns of “biblical” famines.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


U.S. Senate Passes $484 Billion Coronavirus Aid Package

It’s a sign of how dire the U.S. economy is looking that a new spending bill amounting to roughly half of the 2008 financial crisis bailout package now looks small.

On Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Senate passed a $484 billion aid package mostly designed to reduce the strain on U.S. businesses reeling from the shock of the pandemic. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass the bill on Thursday.

The majority of funds, $321 billion, go into replenishing the overwhelmed Paycheck Protection Program—business loans that can be forgiven as long as companies spend the funds on normal business costs as well as by retaining and paying employees.

What about the coronavirus? $25 billion has been allocated for coronavirus testing and a further $75 billion has been set aside for hospitals. The United States has averaged just over 146,000 coronavirus tests per day during the month of April, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Despite the big numbers, per capita testing figures put the United States far behind other countries that have suffered heavy losses from the coronavirus. Per capita, Italy has tested twice as many residents as the United States has.

Will more stimulus follow? In an interview with Politico, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would prefer to wait until the Senate comes back from its recess on May 4 before considering any further measures. “We need to see how things are working, see what needs to be corrected, and I do think that the next time we pass a coronavirus rescue bill we need to have everyone here and everyone engaged,” he said.


What We’re Following Today

Oil continues to slide. After yesterday’s oil rout on May futures, it was the turn of June futures to fall on Tuesday as investors continue to worry about oil demand remaining low well into the summer. June WTI contracts fell by 43 percent on Tuesday, closing at just over $12 a barrel. FP’s Keith Johnson explains why oil has taken such a nosedive, and explores whether there are any measures that could arrest the plunge. “Ultimately … in order for oil prices to find their footing, demand for crude has to make a comeback,” he writes.

Trump to issue executive order suspending green cards. President Trump is expected to sign an executive order today halting permanent residency approvals for 60 days. In a climbdown from the president’s Monday night tweet suggesting a broad immigration suspension, temporary work visas, including those used for agricultural and tech workers, are unlikely to be affected after industry leaders pushed back against the plan. The New York Times reports that U.S. Justice Department lawyers are still reviewing whether the president has the authority to carry out the order.

Obtaining U.S. permanent residency, or a green card, is a notoriously drawn-out process, taking many years in some cases, so the executive order is more likely to frustrate than halt that avenue of immigration. The executive order seems to be based on an anti-immigrant ideology rather than any public health concern: In 2019, the United States issued approximately 1,031,000 green cards; 55 percent of those recipients were living in the United States already.

Islamists kill 52 in Mozambique. Islamist insurgents killed 52 people in the village of Xitaxi in northern Mozambique, according to local police. The killings took place on April 7, as the group attempted to recruit young villagers. “The young men were about to be recruited but they resisted, which provoked the ire of the bandits that killed the 52 indiscriminately,” police spokesman Orlando Modumane said. The province of Cabo Delgado, where the killings occurred, has seen increased attacks recently.

In March, a former U.S. Ambassador to Mozambique, Dennis Jett, argued that the country—led by the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) government—is a failed state more focused on protecting its oil revenues than its people. “Some of the money that does not find its way to bank accounts abroad will go toward paying for more weapons and more mercenaries to maintain Frelimo’s dominance,” he wrote in FP, “As a result, the insurgency and terrorism in the north will remain.” 

World Food Programme warns of “biblical” famines. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned of “multiple famines of biblical proportions” in the coming year, with food insecurity only increasing with the economic shocks caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Yemen, South Sudan, and Afghanistan have the highest proportion of acutely food-insecure people according to the 2020 Global Report on Food Crises report. David Beasley, head of the WFP, urged global action at the report’s launch, “I do believe that with our expertise and our partnerships, we can bring together the teams and the programs necessary to make certain the COVID-19 pandemic does not become a human and food crisis catastrophe,” he said. 


Keep an Eye On

U.S.-China trade deal could be coronavirus casualty. China could invoke a clause in its “phase one” trade deal with the United States to call for fresh trade talks, potentially upending a deal that would have seen China buy $200 billion of U.S. energy and agricultural products, according to a new congressional report, obtained by FP. The report warns that sluggish trade flows and depressed Chinese consumer demand as the country emerges from its coronavirus epidemic risk disrupting the trade deal, FP’s Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer write.

Still no sign of Kim Jong Un. As North Korea failed to report any appearances by its leader, the health of Kim Jong Un is still a matter of speculation. When asked about Kim’s condition at a White House briefing yesterday, U.S. President Donald Trump was curt, “I can only say this, I wish him well,” he said.

In FP, Morten Soendergaard Larsen reports from Seoul on why the breathless coverage of Pyongyang may more be due to the media’s coronavirus fatigue than anything concrete, “Whether or not the North Korean leader is dead, gravely ill, recovering, or perfectly fine is still unknown and most likely will be until anything official is released from Pyongyang,” he writes.

Americans are increasingly negative on China. A new survey published by the Pew Research Center reports that American attitudes toward China have stiffened over the past year: 66 percent of Americans say they hold an unfavorable view of China, up 6 points on the previous year. Only 26 percent have a favorable view. Republicans are more likely to have an unfavorable view than Democrats, although the difference is slim: 72 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable opinion on China, and 62 percent of Democrats do.

The numbers suggest that attacks on China will become a prominent fixture in the 2020 presidential race: On Sunday the Biden campaign released an ad alleging President Trump “rolled over for the Chinese” on its coronavirus response and a pro-Trump super PAC has attempted to tar the former vice president as “Beijing Biden.”


Odds and Ends

Companies that want you to stay at home continue to reap the benefits of worldwide lockdown measures. On Tuesday, the streaming platform Netflix announced it had added almost 16 million new subscribers to its service in the first quarter of 2020, bringing its total user base to more than 180 million. It’s not all rosy for Netflix, as production on future projects has largely been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. The platform also faces stiff competition from newcomer Disney+, which now has over 50 million subscribers.


That’s it for today.

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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