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Chief executive officers at S&P 500 companies that get government aid for coping with the coronavirus pandemic could face a pay cut as small as thousands of dollars or as big as tens of millions, depending on how much they make.

Executive pay cuts can help companies conserve cash while showing solidarity with workers losing out on pay. The coronavirus aid package puts pay caps on executives or other employees making between $425,000 and $3 million in 2019.

The response to the virus so far echoes government scrutiny on executive pay in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Five companies that got significant assistance from taxpayers after the 2008 financial crisis were told to cap their executives’ annual salaries at $500,000 and limit their ability to cash in on stock grants until after relief funds were repaid. A federal watchdog found afterwards that the restrictions failed to rein in executive pay, in part because of pressure from companies to pay executives enough to keep them from quitting.

Then, big banks were blamed for the crisis and stock granted as part of CEO pay was seen as contributing to risk-taking. Today, it’s hard to assign blame for a virus, according to Deb Lifshey, managing director at executive pay consultant Pearl Meyer.

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