US President Donald Trump signed a $ 484 billion bill on Friday to help employers and hospitals stressed by the coronavirus pandemic that killed more than 50,000 Americans and devastated wide swathes of the economy.
The bill is the federal government’s latest attempt to maintain businesses that had to shut down or drastically change their operations while states tried to slow the spread of the virus. In the past five weeks, about 26 million people have applied for unemployment, or about 1 in 6 U.S. workers.
Trump thanked Congress for “answering my call” to provide the critical assistance and said it was “a great victory.” But easy passage of this aid amount is a potentially bumpier path for future legislation to address the crisis.
The measure was almost unanimously adopted by Congress on Thursday when lawmakers met as a group in Washington for the first time since March 27. They followed stricter social distance rules, trying to prove they could do their job despite the Covid-19 crisis.
Legislators’ face masks and bandanas added a dismal tone to their efforts to help a nation hit by the health crisis and the devastating economic cost of the pandemic.
“Millions of people out of work,” said home speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “This is really a very, very, very sad day. We hit the floor with nearly 50,000 deaths, a huge number of people affected and the uncertainty of it all. ”
Anchoring the bill is the Trump administration’s request to fund $ 250 billion to fund a fund to help small and medium-sized businesses with salary, rent and other expenses. This program provides forgivable loans so that businesses can continue to pay workers while forced to remain closed due to social distance and home-based orders.
The legislation includes $ 100 billion demanded by Democrats for hospitals and a nationwide testing program, along with $ 60 billion for small banks and an alternative network of community development banks that focus on development in urban neighborhoods and rural areas that are used by many lenders ignored. There is also $ 60 billion for small business loans and grants provided through the existing Small Business Administration disaster relief program.
Passage of more coronavirus relief is likely in the coming weeks. Supporters are already warning that the company-backed Payroll Protection Program will use up the new $ 250 billion almost immediately. The program, launched a few weeks ago, quickly reached its credit limit after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. That left thousands of small businesses in the dark as they sought help.
Pelosi and allies said the next measure will bring more relief to individuals, provide more generous unemployment benefits in the fall, provide a new round of direct payments to most people, and help those who get fired pay health insurance through COBRA .
Democrats tried to win another round of funding for state and local governments in Thursday’s bill, but were turned down by Senate leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, who says he’s going to try to brake the brakes on runaway deficit spending . McConnell says he does not want to save democratically governed states from tax problems that preceded the pandemic, but there is also a lot of demand for state aid among republicans.
After the Senate passed the bill on Tuesday, McConnell said Republicans would no longer have laws for the rescue of coronavirus until the Senate returned to Washington in May. He promised to give Republicans the highest rank in future legislation, instead of putting it in the hands of bipartisan leaders.
Pelosi attacked McConnell for not initially adding any money to his original $ 250 billion package, saying states with little money should be able to declare bankruptcy, an action they cannot do right now that would threaten a wide variety of state services. McConnell’s comments sparked outrage – including from GOP governors – and he later tempered his comments.
The four Congressional bills for coronavirus approved so far would generate at least $ 2.4 trillion in business aid, testing and treatment, and direct payments to individuals and the unemployed, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The deficit will almost certainly exceed $ 3 trillion this year.
One of the candidates for help with the next bill is the postal service, which has over 600,000 employees, but has been sidestepped by Covid-19-related revenue losses.
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