March 27, 2020 at 1:27 PM EDT – Updated March 27 at 1:27 PM
(CNN) – Boeing could get a staggering $17 billion from the government to help prop up its industry in the wake of the pandemic.
The aerospace giant qualifies because it’s “businesses critical to maintaining national security.”
But it’s not clear if the company is going to take the money.
Washington state is still reeling with 149 people dead, the second highest death toll in America from the novel coronavirus.
“We’ve got to pound it, we’ve got to pound it until it’s done,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “And I’m glad that Washingtonians are pitching in to what is really a warfare against a fatal disease in our state.”
That war has meant a major hit to the state’s economy, empty downtown Seattle streets and a more than 800 percent increase in unemployment claims.
One of the state’s biggest employers, Boeing, which for now is paying employees, has shut down for two weeks after a worker died from COVID-19.
Boeing announced it was suspending work at its Washington facilities Monday, hours before the governor issued a stay-at-home order.
About half of Boeing’s 138,000 employees work in Washington, the first state to experience a deadly coronavirus outbreak.
Economic relief may be on the way. The senate passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill on a 96-0 vote.
It was praised by the president, who pushed the House to pass it too.
A sizable chunk of that stimulus package, $70 billion, will go to the airline industry and airports.
Boeing called for $60 billion for U.S. aerospace companies that make planes, and Boeing itself could qualify for an additional $17 billion.
But unlike when taxpayers got a stake in the automotive industry when it was bailed out by the Obama administration in 2009, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun told Fox Business he does not want the government to own a stake in Boeing in exchange for taxpayer funded stimulus money.
“No one has an interest in retaining government equity in their company. We want to pay everything back. Everybody does,” Calhoun said. “And to think that’s not our motive is sort of silly. I don’t have a need for an equity stake. If they force it, we’ll just look at all the other options, and we’ve got plenty.”
The idea of government bailout had one of its board members bail from her position. Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley left the board in protest.
“I cannot support a move to lean on the federal government for a stimulus or bailout that prioritizes our company over others and relies on taxpayers to guarantee our financial position,” she said.
Calhoun credited Haley for being a great member of the board.
“When a philosophical argument encumbers your ability to help the board represent itself to the government, you have to make that decision, o that’s what she did. And now we’re moving on,” he said.
Boeing has faced serious criticism long before COVID-19 closed it down.
Its 737 Max aircraft was grounded after two of its passenger planes crashed, killing all 346 people on board.
Nevertheless, Boeing may also get more of a bailout than other industries. It is a huge employer in the U.S.
“As far as the dollars for aerospace, you know, this is such an important industry in our state,” Inslee said. “We have to be pleased by any infusion that can help employment increase and be stable in the future. I believe that we rightfully as taxpayers ought to be able to require some of the beneficiaries to be mindful of fairness for their employees and the rest of the country.”
Boeing says in reaction to the pandemic that it is suspending pay for its CEO and board chairman until further notice.
Copyright 2020 CNN. KIRO, Getty, Fox contributed to the report. All rights reserved.