House Passes $900 Billion COVID Relief Bill

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The House handily passed a $900 billion COVID relief bill Monday night, delivering aid to the businesses and families that have struggled through months of stalled negotiations.

The 5,593 page bill passed 359-53 just hours after being publicly released and will now move to the Senate before arriving on the desk of President Trump, who is expected to sign it. The bill was included in a broader $1.4 trillion spending package that included dozens of unrelated provisions pushed off to the end of the legislative session thanks to protracted gridlock over the scope and scale of the relief bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Sunday evening that party leaders in both the House and Senate had agreed to the outlines of a relief bill that would be passed imminently.

“Moments ago, in consultation with our committees, the four leaders of the Senate and the House finalized an agreement,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. “There will be another major rescue package for the American people.”

“Today, we have reached agreement with Republicans and the White House on an emergency coronavirus relief and omnibus package that delivers urgently needed funds to save the lives and livelihoods of the American people as the virus accelerates,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in a joint statement on the deal.

The broader spending package will fund the government until October 1. Because the deadline to pass a bill to fund the government was midnight on Sunday, Congress passed a one-day stopgap funding bill on Sunday to allow time for the larger legislation to make its way through the House and Senate.

The White House indicated Sunday that President Trump will sign the bill.

The relief bill includes about $325 billion in small business relief, and $257 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which grants loans to small businesses to help them avoid laying off employees.

The legislation also provides a $300 weekly increase in federal unemployment benefits for about 10 weeks, less than the $600 extra a week that was included in the CARES Act earlier this year and expired in July. About 20.6 million Americans receive jobless benefits, and the number of people filing for unemployment benefits climbed this month to the highest level since the first week of September, with 885,000 Americans filing claims during the week ending December 12.

Funding for vaccine distribution and coronavirus testing is also included in the deal.

Democrats agreed to drop direct financial aid to state and local governments from the bill, a proposal they had insisted on for months but one Republicans rejected as a bailout of blue areas that they saw as having little to do with the coronavirus crisis.

“We wanted to include state and local government, but at the end of the day we had to reach an agreement,” said Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic Whip.

In exchange, Republicans agreed to drop language that would have provided a legal shield for businesses that opted to reopen amid the pandemic but attempted to follow social distancing and safety protocol.