US lawmakers give final approval to $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill

Washington, Mar 10 (efe-epa).- The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed on Wednesday the final version of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion initiative to address the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States.

The vote was 220-211, as one Democrat joined all of the Republicans in opposing the measure.

The third coronavirus response package in the past 12 months now heads to the White House for Biden’s signature.

Passage of the “American Rescue Act” represents the first major legislative triumph for Biden, who took office Jan. 20 after defeating Republican incumbent Donald Trump last November.

The House approved the original draft at the end of February and the Senate passed an amended version last Saturday, requiring a second vote in the lower chamber to ratify the changes made by senators.

Extended unemployment benefits that were part of the $900 billion relief bill signed in December by Trump are set to expire March 14 and the White House said that Biden will sign the bill on Friday.

The centerpiece of the American Rescue Act is another round of direct payments to individuals, though several million people who got checks as part of the two previous will not receive money this time because centrist Democrats in the Senate insisted on further limiting eligibility.

In the final text, the income threshold to receive the $1,400 payment is reduced from $100,000 to $80,000 a year for individuals and from $200,000 to $160,000 a year for couples.

The Senate, again at the behest of “moderate” Democrats, also reduced the extra $400 a week in unemployment benefits to $300 and brought forward the expiration of the program from Sept. 30 to Sept. 6.

Other elements of the American Rescue Act include funds for state and local governments and money to expedite vaccination and the re-opening of schools.

Biden, who spent more than three decades in the Senate before becoming Barack Obama’s vice president in 2009, said from the start that he wanted a bipartisan bill and he met in January with a group of Republican senators to discuss their proposal for a $600 billion bill.

In the end, not a single Republican senator or House member was willing to back Biden’s initiative.

Some Republicans say that the economy is already recovering and that there is no need for a third relief package, following the December bill and the $2.2-trillion CARES Act, enacted in March 2020.

Yet the world’s largest economy still has more than 9 million fewer jobs than it did before the arrival of Covid-19 in the US, which leads the world in both deaths, 527,000, and cases, 29.2 million. EFE afs-llb/dr

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