Covid-19: US Congress seals agreement on $900 billion relief bill

Democrat and Republican members of Congress announce a proposal for a Covid-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill on in Washington, DC. Lawmakers from both chambers released a $908 billion package Monday, split into two bills. — AFP
Democrat and Republican members of Congress announce a proposal for a Covid-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill on in Washington, DC. Lawmakers from both chambers released a $908 billion package Monday, split into two bills. — AFP

Washington - To establish a $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans



By AP

Published: Mon 21 Dec 2020, 6:32 AM

Last updated: Mon 21 Dec 2020, 7:56 AM

Top Capitol Hill negotiators sealed a deal on Sunday on an almost $1 trillion Covid-19 economic relief package, finally delivering long-overdue help to businesses and individuals and providing money to deliver vaccines to a nation eager for them.

The agreement, announced by congressional leaders, would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, healthcare providers and renters facing eviction.

It came after months of battling and posturing, but the negotiating dynamic changed in Republicans’ favour after the election and as the end of the congressional session neared. President-elect Joe Biden was eager for a deal to deliver long-awaited help to suffering people and a boost to the economy, even though it was less than half the size that Democrats wanted this fall.

House leaders informed lawmakers that they would vote on the legislation on Monday, and the Senate was likely to vote on Monday, too. Lawmakers were eager to leave Washington and close out a tumultuous year.

“There will be another major rescue package for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in announcing the agreement for a relief bill that would total almost $900 billion. “It is packed with targeted policies to help struggling Americans who have already waited too long.”

A fight over Federal Reserve emergency powers was resolved on Saturday night by the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, and conservative Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. That breakthrough led to a final round of negotiations on Sunday.

Still, delays in finalising the agreement prompted the House to pass a one-day stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown at midnight on Sunday.

The final agreement would be the largest spending measure yet. It combined $900 billion for Covid-19 relief with a $1.4 trillion government-wide funding plan and lots of other unrelated measures on taxes, health, infrastructure and education. The government-wide funding would keep the government open through September.

Passage neared as coronavirus cases and deaths spiked and evidence piled up that the economy was struggling. The legislation had been held up by months of dysfunction, posturing and bad faith. But talks turned serious in recent days as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before leaving Washington for Christmas.

After the announcement, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced additional details, including $25 billion in rental assistance, $15 billion for theaters and other live venues, $82 billion for local schools, colleges and universities, and $10 billion for child care.

Still, Democrats wanted more. Pelosi, in a letter to colleagues, called the package an initial step. “In 31 days, when Joe Biden enters the White House, more help will be on the way,” Pelosi said.


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