By Alfonso Fernandez and Nora Quintanilla
Washington/New York, Mar 27 (efe-epa).- The president of the United States on Friday signed into law a more than $2 trillion bill aimed at providing aid to struggling Americans and mitigating the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic as the number of confirmed cases in the country surpassed 100,000.
The US has 101,657 people infected with Covid-19, followed by Italy with 86,498 and China – where the outbreak began – with 81,897, according to an independent tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The disease has claimed 1,581 lives in the US, compared with more than 9,000 in Italy, which leads the world in coronavirus fatalities.
The economic package, equivalent to about 10 percent of gross domestic product and the largest relief package in American history, was passed by the Senate on Wednesday and gained final legislative approval in a House of Representatives voice vote on Friday before it was sent to Donald Trump’s desk.
“I want to thank Democrats and Republicans for coming together and putting America first,” Trump said before signing the bill.
“We got hit by the invisible enemy and we got hit hard,” he added. “I think we are going to have a tremendous rebound.”
The legislation, which was approved by a unanimous 96-0 vote in the Senate, received a rare degree of bipartisan support between Democrat and GOP lawmakers.
The total amount of fiscal stimulus provided is three times the amount included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a bill crafted in response to the so-called Great Recession and signed into law by then-President Barack Obama.
The legislation approved Friday includes $250 billion for one-time direct payments of $1,200 for adults with a Social Security number and an additional $500 per child 17 years or younger (meaning a married couple with two children would receive $3,400).
Individuals who earn more than $75,000 in annual adjusted gross income will receive a progressively lower payout, while the benefit disappears altogether for individuals with $99,000 in annual income.
In the case of heads of household (typically single parents) and married couples, the phase-out provision starts at $112,500 and $150,000, respectively. Married couples with no children who have combined income of $198,000 or more will not receive any payment.
The stimulus package also will include $350 billion in small business loans and $250 billion for expanded unemployment benefits, which also cover freelance and gig workers.
Additionally, it provides $150 billion to support local and state governments and $130 billion to bolster health care systems that in places like New York State are starting to become saturated with Covid-19 patients.
One sticking point in the negotiations was a provision for a $500 billion fund to aid distressed large companies, including loans or loan guarantees to airlines and other hard-hit companies and around $454 billion to backstop recently announced Federal Reserve facilities to maintain the flow of credit in the US economy.
Republicans had wanted that fund to be exclusively managed by the Treasury Department, but due to Democrat opposition safeguards were put in place to prevent misuse of the money.
Among other things, that $500 billion fund will be subject to oversight by an independent inspector general, while companies that receive bailout money will have to limit executive pay and will be barred from engaging in stock buybacks (used to boost share prices).
The bill was passed on a day when the latest figures provided by US states show the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases and coronavirus-related deaths nationwide have climbed to more than 101,000 and over 1,500, respectively.
Authorities in New York state, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the Covid-19 cases in the US, are “looking at about 21 days for a possible apex,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday.
From the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, where the US Army Corps of Engineers is setting up a temporary hospital, Cuomo said that the number of confirmed infections in the state rose by 7,377 overnight to 44,635, while the death toll climbed by 135 to 519.