WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Friday signed a $ 484 billion bill to help employers and hospitals under stress from coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 Americans and devastated large swathes of the economy.
The bill is the federal government’s latest effort to help keep businesses afloat that have had to shut down or drastically change operations as states try to slow the spread of the virus. In the past five weeks, about 26 million people have applied for unemployment assistance, or about 1 in 6 American workers.
Trump thanked Congress for “heeding my call” to provide essential assistance and said it was “a tremendous victory.” But the easy passage of this tranche of aid belies a potentially bumpier path for future legislation to deal with the crisis.
The measure adopted Congress almost unanimously Lawmakers gathered in Washington as a group on Thursday for the first time since March 27. They have followed stricter social distancing rules while seeking to prove they can do their job despite the COVID-19 crisis.
The face masks and bandanas of lawmakers have added a somber tone to their efforts to help a nation shattered by the health crisis and the devastating economic costs of the pandemic.
“Millions of people out of work,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “It really is a very, very, very sad day. We come to the ground with almost 50,000 deaths, a large number of people affected and the uncertainty of it all.”
The bill is based on the Trump administration’s $ 250 billion request to replenish a fund to help small and medium-sized businesses cover their salaries, rent, and other expenses. This program provides forgivable loans so that businesses can continue to pay workers while being forced to remain closed for social distancing and stay-at-home measures.
The legislation contains $ 100 billion demanded by Democrats for hospitals and a nationwide testing program, as well as $ 60 billion for small banks and an alternative network of community development banks that focus on development. in urban neighborhoods and rural areas ignored by many lenders. There is also $ 60 billion for small business loans and grants provided through the Small Business Administration’s existing disaster relief program.
Passage of more coronavirus relief is likely in the coming weeks. Supporters are already warning that the corporate-backed payroll protection program will almost immediately deplete the new $ 250 billion. Launched just a few weeks ago, the program quickly hit its loan limit after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. This left thousands of small businesses in limbo as they sought help.
Pelosi and his allies said the next measure would distribute more aid to individuals, extend more generous unemployment benefits until the fall, provide another round of direct payments to most people and help those who are made redundant. to pay for health insurance through COBRA.
Democrats tried to win another round of funding for state and local governments in Thursday’s bill, but were pushed back by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Who says he ‘he will try to curb runaway deficit spending. McConnell says he doesn’t want to bail out Democratic states for pre-pandemic tax issues, but there is also a strong demand for state tax relief among Republicans.
After the Senate passed the bill on Tuesday, McConnell said Republicans would no longer agree to coronavirus rescue legislation until the Senate returns to Washington in May. He promised grassroots Republicans a greater voice in future legislation, rather than leaving it in the hands of bipartisan leaders.
Pelosi attacked McConnell for initially opposing adding more money to his original $ 250 billion envelope and for saying cash-strapped states should be allowed to file for bankruptcy, a move that ‘they currently cannot do and that would threaten a wide range of public services. McConnell’s comments sparked an uproar – including from GOP governors – and he then tempered his remarks.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the four coronavirus relief bills approved by Congress so far would provide at least $ 2.4 trillion for business relief, testing and treatment, and direct payments to individuals and the unemployed. The deficit is virtually certain to exceed $ 3 trillion this year.
Among the candidates for help in the next bill is the Postal Service, which has more than 600,000 workers but is crushed by lost revenues from COVID-19.