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Senate unanimously passes massive coronavirus aid plan

WASHINGTON – The Senate passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The unanimous vote Wednesday came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced.

The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared somber and exhausted as he announced the vote – and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.

“Pray for one another, for all of our families and for our country,” said McConnell, R-Ky.

“The legislation now before us now is historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “Our health care system is not prepared to care for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt.”

The package is intended as relief for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that’s killed more than 21,000 people worldwide. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid would keep the economy afloat, said: “We’ve anticipated three months. Hopefully, we won’t need this for three months.”

Underscoring the effort’s sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion-plus annual federal budget. The $2.2 trillion estimate is the White House’s best guess.

Insistently optimistic, President Donald Trump said of the greatest public health emergency in anyone’s lifetime, “I don’t think it’s going to end up being such a rough patch” and anticipated the economy soaring “like a rocket ship” when it’s over.

The drive by leaders to speed the bill through the Senate was slowed as four conservative Republican senators from states whose economies are dominated by low-wage jobs demanded changes, saying the legislation as written might give workers like store clerks incentives to stay on unemployment instead of return to their jobs since they may earn more money if they’re laid off than if they’re working. They settled for a failed vote to modify the provision.

Senate passage delivered the legislation to the Democratic-controlled House, which is expected to pass it Friday. House members are scattered around the country. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the measure would pass by voice vote without lawmakers having to return to Washington.

The package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

It includes a heavily negotiated $500 billion program for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.

Six days of arduous talks produced the bill, creating tensions among Congress’ top leaders, who each took care to tend to party politics as they maneuvered and battled over crafting the legislation. But failure was not an option – nor was starting over – which permitted both sides to include their priorities.

“This is a proud moment for the United States Senate and the country, and we’re going to win this battle,” McConnell told reporters afterward. “We’ve pivoted from impeachment to 100-to-nothing on this rescue package ... this is about as flawless as you could possibly be.” The vote actually was 96-0 because several members missed the vote out of concerns they have been exposed to the virus.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has tested positive for it, while GOP Whip John Thune returned to South Dakota on Wednesday after feeling ill.

The bill would provide one-time direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child.

A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients grew during the talks to an estimated $130 billion. Another $45 billion would fund additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community services.

Democrats said the package would help replace the salaries of furloughed workers for four months, rather than the three months first proposed. Furloughed workers would get whatever amount a state usually provides for unemployment, plus a $600-per-week add-on, with gig workers like Uber drivers covered for the first time.

Businesses controlled by members of Congress and top administration officials, including Trump and his immediate family members, would be ineligible for the bill’s business assistance.

Schumer boasted of negotiating wins for transit systems, hospitals and cash-hungry state governments that were cemented after Democrats blocked the measure in votes held Sunday and Monday.

But Cuomo said the Senate package would send less than $4 billion to New York, far short of his estimate that the crisis will cost his state up to $15 billion over the next year. More than 280 New Yorkers have died from the virus, a death toll more than double that of any other state.

Still, Pelosi said the need for more money for New York is “no reason to stop the step we are taking.”

Pelosi was a force behind $400 million in grants to states to expand voting by mail and other steps that Democrats billed as making voting safer but Republican critics called political opportunism. The package also contains $15.5 billion more for a surge in demand for food stamps as part of a massive $330 billion title for agency operations.

State and local authorities would receive up to $150 billion in grants to fight the virus, care for their residents and provide basic services.

Republicans won inclusion of an employee retention tax credit that’s estimated to provide $50 billion to companies that retain employees on payroll and cover 50% of workers’ paycheck up to $10,000. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax.

A companion appropriations package ballooned as well, growing from a $46 billion White House proposal to $330 billion, which dwarfs earlier disasters – including Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy combined.

Europe is enacting its own economic recovery packages, with huge amounts of credit guarantees, government spending and other support.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has agreed to commit more than 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) in fiscal stimulus and support – roughly 30% of that nation’s entire annual output. France, Spain and Italy have launched similar programs.

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, or death.

In the United States, more than 69,000 people have been sickened and more than 1,000 have died.


Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Alan Fram, Mary Clare Jalonick, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

Home sweet home office: Many workers making transition due to coronavirus
 Don Sergent  / 

It’s a short commute to work these days for Dionna Zorici and Kayla Harmon, thanks to a nasty microbe.

Because of social distancing mandates that have been put in place as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, Zorici’s workstation is her kitchen table and Harmon’s is a makeshift card table in her living room.

Welcome to the new world of home offices, a trend that has been forced upon many businesses that may be demonstrating that traditional work spaces, not their jobs, are nonessential.

All it takes is some tech savvy and a good Wi-Fi connection.

“I’ve had to call the help desk a few times,” admitted Zorici, an engineering recruiter for the Bowling Green office of the Aerotek staffing agency. “I definitely wasn’t prepared for this. I didn’t have a home office.”

She does now, even if it’s a makeshift one. Zorici and the other six employees in her office are all working remotely and continuing to handle their clients’ workforce needs.

With most of her communication with business clients and potential workers done online, the change of venue is a minor inconvenience.

“We still have business going on,” she said. “We still have positions that people are hiring for.”

Zorici said the move to working from home “has been a bit of an adjustment because we’re so team-focused. Now we’re having to communicate with our team members through technology.”

Despite the calls to tech support and a less-than-ideal home Wi-Fi connection, Zorici isn’t complaining about being forced to work from home.

“I definitely think this is important,” she said. “It’s the right way to go about this to make sure the disease isn’t being spread.”

The transition to a home office may have been a bit easier for Harmon, an audiovisual support specialist at Western Kentucky University whose very job requires an intimacy with the kind of technology needed to function remotely.

“It has worked out pretty well,” Harmon said. “What I do on a normal basis involves going into classrooms and supporting the equipment. We also support videoconferencing in classes. Now everybody is doing that from home.”

Harmon said the initial news that she and others in her department would need to work from home was “a little scary”, but she said it has gone smoothly after “working out a few kinks.”

“I think it’s kind of amazing what we can accomplish working from home,” Harmon said. “It shows how we can adjust. This is a good era for this to happen. Twenty years ago, the university would’ve had to shut down.”

The videoconferencing, shared documents and other tech tools that have allowed Harmon and her co-workers to adjust to social distancing had already been changing the workplace before a pandemic forced many to work remotely.

The Flexjobs.com website said the number of remote workers in the United States has grown by 44 percent in the past five years and is now at 4.7 million people.

Although he would have preferred it not be forced on him, Bowling Green attorney Alan Simpson said he and his staff have learned to join that remote-working trend, even if temporarily.

“We made the decision last Thursday to close the office except for emergency clients,” Simpson said. “We’re fortunate to have a web-based phone system that allows us to transfer calls.

“We’re trying to carry on as normally as we can, and we’ve even brought in some new clients. I think everyone is starting to settle into our new routine. I’m thankful that I can still stay open. We’re providing the essential government function of making sure our clients’ rights are still being protected.”

Simpson came around to accepting the need for social distancing only reluctantly, but he has now bought into it.

“In the beginning, like a lot of people, I wanted more information,” Simpson said. “I looked to people who knew what they were talking about. I sought information from physicians and medical professionals. Based on their opinions, I’m fully on board.

“The sooner we can implement social distancing and keep people from interacting, the quicker this will pass.”

Another of Bowling Green’s new remote workers, Shelby Worthington of the CrowdSouth marketing and advertising agency, has been a resource for businesses forced by the coronavirus to change how they do business.

Manager of social media at CrowdSouth, Worthington has been able to help restaurant and health care clients use technology to communicate changes in how they’re doing business just as her own work environment has changed.

“We moved (to remote working) last week,” Worthington said. “It hasn’t been a huge transition, but it is a transition. We’re using Google Hangout and videoconferencing each day. It has been a pretty easy adjustment.”

Worthington said she appreciates how CrowdSouth managing partners Jason Heflin and Chad Webb took action to implement social distancing to keep pace with changes brought about by the coronavirus.

“My bosses moved quickly and took steps to keep us safe,” she said. “Our clients have all been great about working with us remotely. It has been a change, but the world is changing by the hour.”

Letter from the Publisher
Daily News to eliminate Saturday print edition

In recent weeks, it has become clear that we are living through a momentous time in history. Around the world, people’s health, livelihoods and lifestyles have been upended by the coronavirus outbreak and its ripple effects on health care systems, economies and societal norms.

Locally, we have all been touched in some way by the pandemic and the ongoing efforts to stem its spread: As expected, confirmed cases of the virus have begun to emerge, schools have closed their doors and many businesses have – understandably so – been ordered by Gov. Andy Beshear to dramatically limit operations or, in some instances, go altogether dark. This, of course, will result in the lamentable circumstance of putting hundreds, if not thousands, out of work in southcentral Kentucky before we turn the corner toward recovery.

As it has for more than 160 years, the Bowling Green Daily News has worked vigorously to provide the community with vital, up-to-the-minute information about this rapidly changing crisis and to tell the stories of those who have been most deeply affected. In times such as these, a free and vibrant press is at its most crucial, and we are as committed as ever to fulfilling that role.

It is hardly a secret, though, that the business of printed news was financially challenging even before the outbreak. But now, as the sharp virus-related economic downturn manifests at ground level, the Daily News must announce difficult decisions that will better position us to continue serving this community in the years ahead.

Most prominently, after March 28, we will no longer publish a Saturday print edition. The reduction of print days is common in the modern newspaper industry, but it is a change our organization resisted for years. Unfortunately, we are no longer able to do that. To be clear, we will continue to publish at bgdailynews.com the same news, sports, obituaries and other content that would have appeared in our Saturday print issues, and our Sunday-through-Friday print editions will be published as usual.

Meanwhile, our print readers will begin to notice other changes as well. We recently shrank our sports sections after virtually all athletic activity was shut down locally and nationally. Similar steps will be taken with other regular sections such as Time Out, Business and Faith, as well as our Opinion page, which will be published only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. While we are loathe to decrease the amount of content in our print issues, it is an unavoidable byproduct of our need to construct editions more concisely in order to maximize our resources during this slowdown in southcentral Kentucky’s business activity.

As always, it is important to remember that we offer more than the physical newspaper. Our team also produces news and advertising content – sometimes around the clock – for our digital products at bgdailynews.com. Full access to our website is currently free to all readers during the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to provide the community with vital information and reporting. The Daily News is also launching a new news initiative in WDNZ-TV11, a low-power television station that features local news, sports and “The Morning Show” with WKCT’s Chad Young and Al Arbogast. The station may be found over the air and on the Glasgow Electric Plant Board’s cable lineup. News Publishing and News Broadcasting, co-owners of the station, are working to expand our television reach to other cable systems and on a streaming app. We feature Stadium TV, Antenna TV, Estrella, Biz TV and The Country Network as subchannels to WDNZ-TV11.

Across all of our platforms, we are southcentral Kentucky’s most trusted news source, and none of what we are announcing today should be perceived as a wavering in our determination to remain just that for many years to come.

Of course, we understand that we are just one of many businesses locally and nationally that are making hard choices during this unsettling and confusing time. Our thoughts and prayers are with those most closely affected by the outbreak – particularly those who fall ill and their families, as well as those who lose jobs either temporarily or permanently.

It is our sincere hope that brighter days are near, and we look forward to bringing you the stories of our families, friends and neighbors as southcentral Kentucky gets back onto its feet.

Sixth confirmed virus case in Warren; area total climbs to 11
 Aaron Mudd  / 

Gov. Andy Beshear announced 39 new cases of coronavirus Tuesday – a record-high single-day increase in Kentucky since the outbreak began. The announcement brings the state’s total to at least 163 cases and includes a new case in Warren County.

The total number of cases in the region is now at least 11, with six cases in Warren County, three in Simpson County, one in Logan County and one in Allen County.

Beshear also announced Tuesday the state’s first coronavirus case related to a “coronavirus party.” Beshear added that he believes no one at the party, described as a group of people in their 20s, knew they had the virus. He advised against gatherings at this time.

“Anyone who goes to something like (a coronavirus party) may think they are indestructible, but it is someone else’s loved one that they are going to hurt,” Beshear said during his daily coronavirus briefing in Frankfort.

Beshear also said Tuesday he will order all non-life-sustaining businesses to close to in-person service, effective Thursday evening. Beshear said there will be an executive order, released Wednesday, with more details.

“With the rise in cases and knowing that these next probably two weeks are going to be some of the most important, we are going to take the next step,” Beshear said in a follow-up news release from his office. “Effective Thursday at 8 p.m., we are going to be asking all non-life-sustaining businesses to close to in-person traffic. …

“Even for those who are going to be excepted under this order, we are going to mandate that type of social distance that we have to see out there to protect our people.”

Exemptions include grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, hardware stores, agricultural operations, gas stations, news organizations, logistics and shipping, construction, laundromats, financial services, home-based care, manufacturing and other key businesses and sectors.

Restaurants can remain open for delivery, curbside pickup and even carryout if they follow guidelines on social distancing, the release said.

In other news, Kentucky’s Department of Education has canceled plans to administer the state’s K-PREP testing this spring. The state had pursued a waiver that was granted by the U.S. Department of Education. State testing will resume in spring 2021 when current assessments will be in use.

Beshear said Tuesday that he has signed Senate Bill 177, which will offer relief to schools closed by the coronavirus. The legislation, which goes into effect immediately, allows school districts to use an unlimited number of non-traditional instruction days and waives requirements for in-person student attendance.

On Monday, Beshear’s daily briefing brought the announcement of new confirmed cases in Allen, Simpson and Warren counties.

A spokeswoman with the Barren River District Health Department confirmed Monday afternoon that the new case, a 26-year-old male, brought Warren County’s total to five. She could not immediately offer demographic details on Warren County’s sixth case.

– Daily News multimedia reporter Emily Zantow also contributed to this story.