Thursday, 23 April 2020

Coronavirus: Congress passes $484bn economic relief bill

The US House of Representatives has passed a new Covid-19 relief package totalling $484bn (£391bn), the fourth aid bill to clear Congress in response to the pandemic.

The legislation, approved by 388-5, devotes more money to a small business aid fund, hospitals and wider testing.

President Donald Trump has already said he will enact the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously on Tuesday.

The US has over 845,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 46,800 deaths.

Last month, Washington enacted the largest economic stimulus package in US history, with $2 trillion in coronavirus aid.
The additional funding for the small business programme follows Thursday's unemployment report, which revealed over 26 million Americans filed for jobless claims in the last five weeks - and 4.4 million last week alone.

Lawmakers have given $310bn in new funds to the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers loans to small businesses so they can keep employees on the payroll.

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The $349bn allocated to the programme last month ran out last week, leaving millions of business owners questioning how they could keep operating.

The White House initially requested lawmakers separately allot $250bn for the pay programme, but Democrats argued for stipulations to ensure the money reached underserved communities.

Democrats also said funds should be allocated for hospitals and testing.

Hospitals will now receive $75bn, and $25bn will go towards expanding Covid-19 testing - which experts have emphasised is a key step to re-opening the economy.

Today's vote took place with new social distancing measures - lawmakers waited in their offices for the vote, came to the floor in small groups and the chamber was cleaned between group votes.

Ohio Republican Jim Jordan angered some Democrats for appearing on the House floor - and reportedly coughing - without a face covering.

In other developments:

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren revealed her eldest brother had died from Covid-19; her colleague, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, said her sister was dying of the disease and dedicated the relief bill to her
US media report the next planned stimulus bill could top $1tn
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said preliminary data suggests many more people than previously believed were infected with Covid-19, as antibody tests showed over 21% of 1,300 tested had the virus
The latest unemployment figures showed 4.4 million more Americans filed for jobless insurance in the last week
President Trump and Democrats are keen on passing another relief bill for states and cities not included in Thursday's package
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has drawn bipartisan criticism for saying he would support states declaring bankruptcy rather than having the federal government "borrow money from future generations" to aid them
New guidance from the US Treasury has made it harder for large companies to obtain funding meant for small businesses - and there are now penalty threats for firms who have not yet returned this money

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