WORLD US Congress approves US$900b stimulus package

WORLD

US Congress approves US$900b stimulus package

AFP

15:29, December 22, 2020

The US Capitol in the afternoon before lawmakers vote to pass a US$900 billion coronavirus relief bill on December 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. After months of impasse, negotiations came down to the wire as 12 million people are set to lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas.

US lawmakers on Monday approved a US$900 billion relief package for the world's biggest economy that will provide a long-sought boost for millions of Americans and businesses battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Overwhelming approval in the Senate and House of Representatives clears the way for the legislation to be sent to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

"The American people can rest assured that more help is on the way, immediately," Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said on Twitter.

As the COVID-19 death count rises amid a massive resurgence of the virus that further threatens the economy, Republican and Democratic legislators finally hammered out a bill after months of wrangling and partisan finger-pointing.

The deal will spare millions of jobless workers who were days away from seeing their unemployment benefits expire, and provide a new round of cash payouts.

Small businesses will benefit from more government grants, while the package also includes rental assistance and help to families facing eviction.

"It's a good bipartisan deal," Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. "We will do some good with this legislation."

But "as President-elect Joe Biden has said, it's a first step, and we will need to do more. More to get virus assistance to crush the virus. More money to buy vaccines," she said on the House floor.

The US is facing the world's largest coronavirus outbreak, and the virus has surged in recent months, threatening a tentative economic recovery. The death toll has topped 319,000.

Recent data show retail sales slowed heading into the usually-strong holiday shopping season, while new applications for unemployment benefits have risen for four of the past five weeks after months of declines.

Cash injection

The massive package is part of a US$2.3 trillion "coronabus" bill that includes a so-called omnibus bill to fund the government for the coming year.

The measure will include a new round of pandemic relief payments, and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the US$600 checks will go out as early as next week.

That amounts to "US$2,400 for a family of four, so much needed relief just in time for the holidays," Mnuchin said Monday on CNBC.

While the direct payments are only half the amount provided by the US$2.2 trillion CARES Act that Congress approved in March, Mnuchin said it is a "very fast way of getting money into the economy."

The US$600 payments go to Americans earning less than US$75,000 a year, and will be reduced for higher incomes, while those who bring home US$99,000 or more will not get a check.

The largest provision is the US$275 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) aid for businesses, which are government loans that convert to grants if spent on wages and rent.

The agreement also contains US$25 billion in rental assistance and extends an eviction moratorium for one month.

Biden, who will be sworn in on January 20, has welcomed the agreement but said Sunday that much more will be needed to provide "support to struggling families, and investments in jobs and economic recovery."

After months of talk, the deal seemed endangered in the final days by a dispute over a Republican-backed provision to limit the ability of the Federal Reserve to provide more emergency lending.

But Democrats were able to block that move by Republican Senator Patrick Toomey, although they were not able to insert billions of dollars in aid to state and local governments on the front line of responding to the virus impact.

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