WORLD US House passes COVID-19 relief package to aid small businesses, hospitals, testing

WORLD

US House passes COVID-19 relief package to aid small businesses, hospitals, testing

Xinhua

08:15, April 24, 2020

WASHINGTON, April 23 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a 484-billion-dollar relief package to boost funding for small businesses, hospitals and coronavirus testing, sending the bill to President Donald Trump for signature.

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Photo: AP

The lower chamber approved the bill by a vote of 388-5, two days after the Senate swiftly cleared the legislation in a voice vote. Congressional Democrats reached an agreement with the Trump administration on the package earlier this week following days of intense negotiations.

The package will provide more than 310 billion dollars in additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to boost small business lending, as well as 75 billion dollars for hospitals and 25 billion dollars for virus testing.

Calling the new bill "an interim emergency funding package," Democratic leaders have pledged to advance a larger bill, which could include another round of direct payments to households as well as more aid to state and local governments.

The PPP, designed to provide loans for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll during the COVID-19 outbreak, ran out of money last week. In a previously approved 2.2-trillion-dollar relief package, 349 billion dollars had been allocated to fund the PPP.

About 80 percent of PPP applicants said they are still waiting, and many do not know where they are in the application process, according to a survey released Monday by the National Federation of Independent Business.

The new relief package was approved by the U.S. Congress as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to sweep the nation and devastate the economy. Newly released data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that over 26 million people have filed jobless claims over the past five weeks, with small businesses struggling to retain their employees.

On Thursday before voting on the relief package, the House also approved a Democratic-majority select subcommittee to oversee the Trump administration's use of the 500-billion-dollar aid for corporations, states and municipalities.

All members present were wearing masks or other cloth face coverings, and some even kept them on during their speeches. To reduce infection risks, the House also carried out votes in small groups, with staff cleaning and disinfecting the chamber between votes.

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