Better late than never, as the old saying goes. After months of negotiations and political wrangling, a $900 billion COVID-19 pandemic relief package was passed by Congress Monday night. The package includes much-needed relief for businesses and individuals, as well as resources for the vaccination.
The bill was sent to President Trump’s desk for his signature. However, he surprised even his own party by tweeting out a video calling for what he called the “ridiculously low” $600 direct payments to be increased to $2000, an amount more aligned with what Democrats had been calling for. It remains unclear if he will sign the measure.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca jumped on the president’s proposal. She stated on Thursday that House Democrats would vote Monday for a standalone bill that would offer $2,000 direct payments per person.
As of right now, the 5,593-page bill, reportedly the largest in history, includes one-time direct payments of $600 for Americans making up to $75,000 per year, half of what went out in March through the $1.8 trillion CARES Act. It also includes $1,200 to couples making up to $150,000, with phased out payments for higher incomes. A $600 payment will be made per dependent children, like the last round of relief payments, and it includes a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit.
Additionally, the bill includes $10 billion for childcare; $25 billion in rental assistance; $82 billion for local schools, colleges, and universities; and $15 billion for theaters and other entertainment venues. A total of $22 billion dollars will go to states for contract-tracing and other pandemic mitigation strategies.
The Paycheck Protection Program will be funded with $284 billion to cover the second round of PPP grants to hard-hit businesses. Democrats pushed for and won set-asides for low-income and communities of color.
The Senate cleared the package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved it by a vote of 359-53. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Monday the payments should arrive in bank accounts next week. However, that timeline has been thrown off by President Trump’s refusal to sign the bill.
President-elect Joe Biden, who has often referred to the bill as a “down payment,” reportedly implored his party to work with Republicans to get some relief to Americans struggling during the pandemic, even if it’s far less than what the party pushed for.
In May, House Democrats passed a much more robust $3.3 trillion bill. That bill included close to $1 trillion in federal funding for state and local governments. The new bill does not include state funding. It also doesn’t include liability protection for businesses against COVID-19-related lawsuits, a measure pushed by Republicans.
President-elect Biden expressed approval of the passage Monday night on Twitter, stating, “I applaud this relief package, but our work is far from over. Starting in the new year, Congress will need to immediately get to work on support for our COVID-19 plan.”
In a statement, Progressive Caucus Whip Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) called the scaled-down package “a collective failure in helping Americans in their time of need.” But she also noted it was a start, calling it “a down payment for a more just and humane pandemic response.”