WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders announced Sunday evening that they had finally reached a bipartisan agreement on a long-delayed COVID-19 relief package. The House approved the package Monday night.
According to NPR, the relief funding is part of a larger, nearly 5,600-page bill to fund the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2021. One of the individual benefits in the package is a $600 direct payment for every adult and child earning up to $75,000 a year. Any person who earns an annual salary between $75,000 and $99,000 would get smaller checks, and there will be no payment to anyone making more than $99,000 a year. The package also contains an extension of enhanced unemployment benefits through mid-March that will give workers without a job, including self-employed people and gig workers, up to $300 per week.
Other individual benefits include $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the standing eviction moratorium until Jan. 31, as well as an additional $13 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
NPR also reported that the package includes an additional $284 billion for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Democrats said they expanded eligibility for loans to include nonprofits and local newspapers, TV and radio stations, and Republicans said $10 billion was reserved to help child care centers to safely reopen. An additional $15 billion would reportedly be used for live venues, independent movie theaters and other arts venues struggling from pandemic-related closures.
The bipartisan agreement also reportedly includes around $68 billion for the purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and for additional funding at the state level for tests. The Republican summary said $20 billion of that amount would make the vaccine available at no cost.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the relief package a “major agreement that struggling Americans have needed for months.”
“We are going to pass another historic rescue package to help American families through this pandemic,” the Republican leader said on the Senate floor Monday morning. “We are going to pass full-year government funding so the Armed Forces and all federal departments have the resources and the certainty they need. And we are going to do both these things as soon as possible.”
McConnell said Senate Republicans had been trying since July to get “more targeted, bipartisan relief into the hands of the American people,” but he blamed Democrats for the delay of its passage. He accused House and Senate Democrats of blocking about $1 trillion for a second round of the PPP, direct checks for households and funding for health care providers, testing and K-12 schools because it “fell short of their multi-trillion-dollar left-wing wish list.”
“But a few days ago, with a new president-elect of their own party, everything changed,” McConnell said. “Democrats suddenly came around to our position that we should find consensus, make law where we agree, and get urgent help out the door. In a few days of hard work, we’ve assembled another historic, bipartisan, rescue package. Just under $900 billion of relief targeted toward our fellow Americans who need help the most.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York on Sunday issued a joint statement on the package, saying, “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. We are going to crush the virus and put money in the pockets of the American people.”
The statement later added, “State and local governments will certainly need additional funding to prevent the senseless layoffs of heroic essential workers and critical service cuts. The agreement provides some important new targeted funds for state and local government functions that will help alleviate their overall budget burdens. These targeted funds include the emergency resources for schools, $27 billion for state highways, struggling transit agencies, Amtrak and airports, $22 billion for the health-related expenses of state, local, tribal and territorial government, and an additional year of eligibility for expenses under the CARES Coronavirus Relief Fund.
“The emergency relief in this agreement, the second largest in history only to the CARES Act, is an important first step that Democrats look forward to building on under the new Biden-Harris Administration to meet the remaining needs of the American people during this historic health and economic crisis.
“The House will move swiftly to pass this legislation immediately, so it can quickly be sent to the Senate and then to the President’s desk for his signature. With the horrifying acceleration of daily infections and deaths, there is no time to waste.”
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s junior Republican senator, Rand Paul, on Monday criticizes congressional spending, proposing to cut waste and find savings in the current budget to pay for the pandemic response and other priorities.
“We are $27 trillion in debt today,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “How do we expect a child to have the economic opportunity when this crushing debt is their inheritance from Congress?”
Paul said the economy needs to reopen so Americans can “rebuild their livelihoods.”
“We are borrowing and worsening this debt crisis, in part, because too many governors and mayors have imposed heavy handed restrictions that crush business,” Paul said. “The need for help is real. I hear it every day from Kentuckians and across the country. But it’s clear that government has worsened the economic damage and acted as the biggest obstacle to economic recovery. The answer is not printing up and distributing ‘free money.’ It’s opening the economy.”