US Congress poised to pass COVID relief bill

The $900bn stimulus package is aimed at boosting the economy and includes direct payments to Americans.

The United States Congress is moving quickly towards passage on Monday of a $900bn emergency spending bill responding to the COVID-19 pandemic after months of partisan conflict.

The COVID-19 relief bill provides $284bn for loans to small business to keep workers on employed and $166bn for $600 one-time payments to most US citizens.

Terms of the bill were agreed in marathon negotiations among congressional leaders and the White House that ended with agreement over the weekend.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the US Congress, called the bill “a first step” towards giving incoming President-elect Joe Biden the resources needed to “crush the virus”.

“I look forward to a strong bipartisan vote today on this legislation, respecting it for what it does – not judging it for what it does not – but recognizing that more needs to be done,” Pelosi said in remarks to the House.

The House is expected to vote on the measure before sending it to the Senate tonight where it would be passed and sent to President Donald Trump who is expected to sign the bill.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a US television interview the bill would help the US economy recover.

“It is a large bill and it has a little bit of everything for everybody,” Mnuchin told CNBC.

The bill includes short term unemployment benefits, aid for the US airline industry, funding for vaccine distribution and help for urban and poor communities hit hardest by the virus.

It does not go as far as a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief package the House approved in May that was rejected by Republicans who control the US Senate.

Among the sticking points, Democrats had sought $160bn in federal bailout funding for states and localities now seeing budget shortfalls because of precipitous declines in tax revenue from virus-related economic slowdowns.

Democrats and labour unions opposed a liability shield against COVID-19 related lawsuits that corporate interests and Republicans wanted. The liability shield and funding for states and localities were left out of the compromise bill.

The legislation was attached to a larger, must-pass $1.4 trillion spending fiscal 2021 measure providing funding for the US government.

Biden in a statement applauded the bipartisan deal in Congress and called it “a lifeline” for millions of US citizens struggling with the pandemic. And he signalled he will be asking Congress for more funding to address the virus when he takes office on January 20

“This action in the lame-duck session is just the beginning,” Biden said.

“Our work is far from over,” he said.

The COVID-19 relief bill extends a federal ban on evictions until the end of January and provides $25bn in rental assistance to families struggling to pay rent.

Enhanced federal unemployment benefits of $600 a month that were set to expire at year-end were reduced to $300 a month and extended through the end of March.

It provides $82bn in funding for colleges and schools, including support for repair and replacement of heating and air conditioning systems and mitigation steps needed to prevent transmission of the virus.

It also provides $45bn for public transportation agencies, including $4bn for the New York City subway and bus system.

Source: Thanks