WASHINGTON, April 21 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed a 484-billion-U.S.-dollar relief package that would increase funding for small businesses, hospitals and coronavirus testing as the COVID-19 fallout continues to ripple through the country.
The swift passage by a voice vote came after congressional Democrats reached an agreement with the Trump administration on the package earlier in the day following weeks 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 coronavirus testing.
However, Democrats are disappointed that the administration "has not agreed to more funding for state, tribal and local governments on the front lines of this crisis who desperately need an infusion of funds to pay the essential workers who keep us safe," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.
Calling it "an interim emergency funding package," the Democratic leaders 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, as soon as the House of Representatives passes the relief package, likely on Thursday.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday expressed his support for the relief package and a broader measure to spur economic recovery from the pandemic.
"After I sign this Bill, we will begin discussions on the next Legislative Initiative with fiscal relief to State/Local Governments for lost revenues from COVID 19, much needed Infrastructure Investments for Bridges, Tunnels, Broadband, Tax Incentives for Restaurants, Entertainment, Sports, and Payroll Tax Cuts to increase Economic Growth," Trump tweeted.
The latest relief package came after the U.S. Congress last month passed a 2-trillion-dollar stimulus bill to blunt the economic fallout of COVID-19, the largest stimulus package in U.S. history.
"This will make nearly 3 trillion dollars in federal aid via various facilities since March 3, and we are still chasing a moving target. I fear fatigue on what is a marathon of a crisis is setting in," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, a major accounting firm.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) on Tuesday welcomed the legislation to increase funding for small business loans as "retailers continue to deal with catastrophic hardships from COVID-19."
"Funding for the Paycheck Protection Program has already been exhausted and additional relief is essential to keeping employees of small retailers on the payroll and contributing to the economy until we can get through this challenge," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.
"This assistance is too important to be given out on a first-come, first-served basis and limited to those who were the quickest to file their applications," he said.
The PPP, which ran out of money last week, is designed to provide loans for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll during the coronavirus outbreak.
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 by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) on Monday.
"Small businesses were prepared and ready to apply for these programs, the only financial support options for most, and it is very frustrating that the majority of these true small businesses haven't received their loan yet," said Holly Wade, director of Research and Policy Analysis at the NFIB.
The NFIB survey also showed that most small business owners believe it will take beyond 2020 to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19, with only one-third of small business owners believing their community will get back to a normal level of economic activity by the end of the year.
Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Tuesday warned that a second wave of the coronavirus this year could be worse because it is likely to coincide with the start of flu season.
"There's a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through," Redfield said in an interview with The Washington Post.
The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States topped 800,000 Tuesday afternoon with more than 43,000 deaths, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.