US lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved a massive aid infusion to help small and medium-sized businesses pay employees sitting at home during coronavirus lockdowns. The first round of aid ran out of money in 3 weeks.
The US Congress on Thursday passed a $484-billion (€449-billion) spending package to provide relief to small businesses and hospitals, as the US economy continues to suffer during the coronavirus pandemic.
The package comes as the US Department of Labor announced Thursday that 4.4 million unemployment claims were filed during the past week. More than 26 million claims have been filed since last month, and an estimated 1 in 6 Americans are out of work.
At the core of the funding is $310 billion to prop up the so-called called Paycheck ProtectionProgram, which expands federal loans to small and medium-sized businesses closed by coronavirus lockdowns, allowing them to continue paying employees who cannot work due to stay-at-home orders. Businesses that keep most employees on the payroll will have loans used for salaries forgiven under the program.
The paycheck program was launched on April 3, but it's initial $349 billion tranche ran out last week and payouts screeched to a halt. There were also reports of larger businesses unlawfully receiving loans they should not have qualified for.
Republicans had initially asked for an immediate infusion of $250 billion to support the program, but Democrats insisted on changes to ensure that money reaches the small businesses the program was built for.
Democrats also demanded that $100 billion be attached to support hospitals and expand COVID-19 testing.
Division in the long run?
Thursday's legislation was overwhelmingly approved by a vote count of 388-5, as many lawmakers wearing masks on the House floor gathered as a group in Washington for the first time since March 27.
The bill was already approved by the Senate and is expected to be signed by US President Donald Trump.
However, the bipartisan support belies greater tension ahead, as US lawmakers debate how to continue propping up the economy as the ripple effects of lockdowns continue. Funding for state and local governments is expected to be a contentious issue moving forward.
The US government has now injected almost $3 trillion into fighting the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
wmr/rc (AP, dpa, Reuters)