US Senate passes $2 trillion COVID-19 aid package

Marco Green
March 26, 2020

The Senate unanimously passed a massive $2.2 trillion coronavirus emergency rescue package late Wednesday, and among its many tools to bolster the economy amid the COIVD-19 pandemic is $290 billion set aside for direct payments to most Americans.

The stimulus also beefs up unemployment insurance by increasing the maximum benefit by $600 per week for the next four months. However, an amendment that would have changed the unemployment provision failed just before the Senate approved the measure.

Rob Portman said the rescue package would provide $350 billion in loans and grants to help keep small businesses open, assist those who have lost jobs during the crisis and address problems in the health care system that undermined response to the virus.

President Donald Trump has indicated he will sign the measure.

Second-ranking House Republican Steve Scalise was urging his fellow Republicans to vote to pass the package, his communications director said. Anyone making up to $75,000 a year is eligible for a one-time payment of $1,200, and that amount tapers down to zero for anyone making more than $99,000 a year.

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who negotiated with Ueland, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and other officials, are expected to discuss the deal in Senate soon.

Democrats also rejected the $3 billion sought by the Trump administration to buy oil to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida and Ben Sasse of Nebraska argued that it would incentivize unemployment and could trigger worker shortages and supply disruptions by providing more money to some jobless workers than they would make working.

The bill includes $500 billion for large corporations as the USA grapples with a major economic freefall putting it on the verge of a full-blown recession as well as a $367 billion loan program for small businesses and $150 billion for assistance to state and local governments.

In a major sticking point for Democrats, the initial proposal gave Treasury latitude to disburse the funds, including the discretion not to disclose for up to six months which companies got taxpayer dollars. They said the expanded unemployment benefits were overly generous and would encourage workers to get laid off - an objection that immediately triggered a counterthreat from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who promised to place his own hold on the bill over his concerns about "corporate welfare" if they did not drop theirs. "This is a time when the American people need their government". It also expands those benefits to freelancers, furloughed employees and gig workers.

Legislation heads to the House next.

"What is important is for us to recognize the good that is in the bill, appreciate it for what it does. Don't judge it for what it doesn't because we have more bills to come", the California Democrat told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room" Wednesday evening.

The bill's passage came as Trump grew impatient with his administration's decision to impose strict restrictions on all aspects of American public life as a way to stop the spread of the virus, a move recommended by USA health officials that has brought the economy grinding close to a halt.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats who control the House of Representatives will review the package.

However, any House member could demand a recorded, roll-call vote, which has potential to drag out the process.

"In order to protect the safety of Members and staff and prevent further spread of Covid-19 through Members' travel, the Republican Leader and I expect that the House vote on final passage will be done by voice vote", Mr Hoyer wrote in a letter to colleagues. But any individual member can block such a move, which would make passage more hard.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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