Congress seals agreement on $900 billion COVID relief bill

Remigio Civitarese
Dicembre 21, 2020

U.S. congressional leaders said on Sunday they had reached agreement on a $900 billion package to provide the first new aid in months to an economy hammered by the novel coronavirus pandemic, with votes likely on Monday. "It is packed with targeted policies to help struggling Americans who have already waited too long".

A last-minute attempt by the Republican Party to limit the Federal Reserve's emergency lending power to small businesses and local governments was also left out. The Senate was likely to pass the measure Sunday night as well.

Here are some highlights of the measure with overall funding amounts and specific amounts for some but not necessarily all initiatives; some amounts are not yet available and some aspects of the catchall bill do not involve spending. It combined $900 billion for COVID-19 relief with a $1.4 trillion government-wide funding plan and lots of other unrelated measures on taxes, health, infrastructure and education.

Passage is nearing as coronavirus cases and deaths spike and evidence piles up that the economy is struggling. Revives supplemental federal pandemic unemployment benefits but at $300 per week - through March 14 - instead of the $600 per week benefit that expired in July. Provides $600 direct payments to individuals making up to $75,000 per year and couples making $150,000 per year - with payments phased out for higher incomes -- with $600 additional payments per dependent child.

President Donald Trump is supportive, particularly of the push for providing more direct payments. The legislation had been held up by months of dysfunction, posturing and bad faith. That sum is half the $600 per week that was included in the CARES Act, the relief bill passed in March. But talks turned serious in recent days as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before leaving Washington for Christmas.

"This marks the second biggest relief bill in the nation's history-second to the CARES Act-and it delivers aid that is urgently needed by the unemployed, by renters at risk of losing their homes, by small business owners anxious about going out of business, by people seeking vaccination, by schools that spent money to keep kids safe, by families struggling to make ends meet and so much more", Schumer said. Democrats won set-asides for low-income and minority communities.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last month that those programs, along with two that purchased corporate bonds, would close at the end of the year, prompting an initial objection by the Fed.

Toomey said the emergency powers were created to stabilize capital markets at the height of the pandemic this spring and were expiring at the end of the month anyway. President-elect Joe Biden was eager for a deal to deliver long-awaited help to suffering people and a boost to the economy, even though it was less than half the size that Democrats wanted this fall.

The governmentwide appropriations bill would fund agencies through next September.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., questions Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during a Congressional Oversight Commission hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday Dec. 10, 2020.

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