US Congress reaches agreement on new stimulus package
Washington, Dec 20 (efe-epa).- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday announced that he had reached an agreement with Democratic lawmakers to approve a new economic stimulus package valued at $900 billion to help alleviate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which is surging in the United States.
“More help is on the way,” said McConnell on the Senate floor of the Covid-19 relief bill approved earlier in the afternoon.
“Moments ago,” McConnell said, “the four leaders of the Senate and the House finalized an agreement. It will be another major rescue package for the American people.”
“For the information of all Senators and more importantly for the American people, we can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a very long time: more help is on the way,” he added.
“As our citizens continue battling this coronavirus this holiday season, they will not be fighting alone,” McConnell went on to say. “Now we need to promptly finalize the text, avoid any last-minute obstacles and cooperate to move this legislation through both chambers.”
The stimulus package is included in a $1.4 trillion bill designed to finance the US administration until September 2021 and which must be approved before midnight Sunday to prevent federal agencies from finding themselves without funds and having to shut down operations.
The deal was struck after some nine months of arduous stop-and-go negotiations between Republicans, who generally wanted to limit any further stimulus funding, and Democrats, who wanted to expand it amid a worsening Covid-19 pandemic that has sorely damaged large sectors of the US economy, throwing tens of millions of people out of work, leaving them unable to pay their rent, mortgages and/or other expenses.
The agreement was struck among long-bickering lawmakers just as some 12 million people were about to lose relief benefits as earlier provisions to expand unemployment eligibility amid the pandemic were due to expire at the end of the year.
The deal includes “huge sums” allocated to distribute and administer the several Covid-19 vaccines that have received Food and Drug Administration fast-track approval or may shortly receive such approval.
It will also “renew and extend” unemployment benefits for many millions of people, along with $80 billion “for schools.”
“After a long and arduous year, after a year full of bad news, finally we have some good news to dealer to the American people,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
“Make no mistake about it. This agreement is far from perfect, but it will deliver emergency relief to a nation in the throes of a genuine emergency,” Schumer said, adding that he does not consider the bill to be enough and it should be viewed “as a floor, not a ceiling” on additional stimulus.
Among the bill’s provisions, legislators came an agreement to provide $300 in additional weekly unemployment benefits, $600 relief checks for individuals making less than $75,000 per year, in excess of $300 billion for small business aid and large sums for schools and hospitals, as well as vaccine distribution.
The new relief bill would “repurpose” more than $400 billion in unused funds from the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March 2020 in the early days of the pandemic, and this means that the new bill includes “only” some $500 billion in new funding.
However, Democrats acknowledged that they were unable to get Republicans to agree to allocating $160 billion in aid for state and local governments.