Congressional agreement on a $ 900 billion plan to fight coronavirus includes more aid to small businesses, another round of direct payments to Americans, an additional unemployment benefit, and funding to streamline the distribution of Covid vaccines.
Legislators intend to have the package passed by Monday night, which accompanies a $ 1.4 trillion government funding proposal in a whopping bill. Much-needed help comes when millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing and face the potential loss of unemployment benefits and evacuation protection in the days to come.
Many economists and lawmakers say the measure will help, but it won’t go far enough to contain the damage households and small businesses have suffered during the pandemic. The Democrats have already stressed that after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, they will push for another bailout package.
The more than 5,000-page bill, which legislators published on Monday afternoon just hours before the expected votes, would address many facets of the health and economic crisis.
A weekly unemployment insurance surcharge of $ 300 per week would be added by mid-March. The plan would also extend the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs, which expand unemployment benefits and allow people to continue receiving payments until mid-March after their government assistance expires. The bill would put $ 284 billion in paycheck protection program loans that can be extended and allow hard-hit small businesses to get a second round of funding. It would include $ 20 billion in grants for businesses in low-income areas and money for loans from community and minority lenders. The package would send direct payments of $ 600 to most Americans – up from $ 1,200 that was made in March as part of the CARES Act. Families also receive $ 600 per child. Individuals who earned up to $ 75,000 per year and couples who jointly submitted up to $ 150,000 in 2019 will receive the full amount. Payments will expire until ceased for individuals and couples who have earned $ 99,000 and $ 198,000, respectively. Mixed status households where a family member does not have a social security number will also receive payments retrospectively under the CARES Act. The bill would extend the federal eviction moratorium to January 31. It would raise $ 25 billion in a rental assistance fund that states and municipalities would make available to people for use in past due and future rental payments or utilities. The plan would allocate more than $ 8 billion to distribute the two FDA-approved Covid-19 vaccines. It would also set aside $ 20 billion to make sure Americans got the shot for free. It would send at least $ 20 billion to states for testing and contact tracing efforts. During the worst hunger crisis the U.S. has seen in years, the move would invest $ 13 billion in increasing the benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by 15% and funding food banks for other programs. The bill would allocate $ 45 billion for transportation, including at least $ 15 billion to help with airline payroll, $ 14 billion for transit systems, and $ 10 billion for state highways. The legislation would pour $ 82 billion into education, including more than $ 54 billion for the public K-12 schools and nearly $ 23 billion for higher education. Schools need additional resources like personal protective equipment to stay open safely. This will provide $ 10 billion for childcare. The proposal puts $ 15 billion in live venues, cinemas, and cultural museums. The move sees an increase of $ 7 billion before broadband access. It would expire the US Federal Reserve’s end-of-year loan conditions set up by the CARES Act and reuse $ 429 billion of unused funds. A proposal, backed by GOP Senator Pat Toomey, to prevent the Fed from setting up “similar” programs in the future temporarily sparked a final attempt at a rescue package. The parties eventually chose a language that would not allow the Fed to issue identical loan regulations.
The deal followed months of disputes over how best to foster a health system and economy ravaged by the pandemic. After Democrats called for trillion more aid in the spring and early summer while Republicans called for spending to be delayed, the parties argued over how much money should go into the federal response.
In the run-up to the deal, Congress had to pass several temporary funding laws to buy time for a final deal. The malfunction dragged on into Monday when problems printing and uploading the massive legislation delayed the voting process.
Legislators appeared ready to work late into the night to pass legislation that would not only bring another round of relief but also keep the government going until September 30th.
“We’ll stay until we’re done tonight,” McConnell told NBC News.
The Senate would need the unanimous support of all senators to move the legislation forward by Monday. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who has criticized the $ 900 billion plan and other large spending packages, told reporters he would not stop the legislation.
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., And Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Previously threatened to halt legislation when they pushed for $ 1,200 direct payments instead of $ 600 checks. It is unclear if they have any plans to move the bill.
In a tweeted statement on Monday, Sanders said the legislation will “help many but nowhere near enough”. He called on the Biden government to propose “a major economic relief bill on day one that addresses the grave economic problems of working families – including more direct payments.”
Biden said in a statement on Sunday that Congress should work on more laws “immediately from the New Year” to contain the virus and stimulate economic recovery. Willingness to do so on Capitol Hill will depend in part on whether the GOP can win both Georgia Senate runoffs on January 5 and retain control of the Senate.
Their desire for more direct aid to individuals and families reflects the Democrats’ broad desire to approve more aid quickly in the New Year.
“Today’s bill is a good bill. Today is a good day,” said Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Senate Minority, DN.Y., on Monday. “But it certainly isn’t the end of the story, and it can’t be the end of the story.”
– NBC News contributed to this report
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