Congress to vote on $900 billion COVID-19 aid package

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The measure will send direct payments to Americans and aid small businesses

After nine months, congressional negotiators have reached an agreement on a nearly $900 billion aid package to help businesses and individuals cope with the economic fallout from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In the end, it took eliminating the two provisions that caused the standoff. Democrats’ insistence on billions of dollars for state and local government and the GOP’s demand for immunity from lawsuits for businesses were dropped.

What’s left is a scaled-back version of the $2 trillion CARES Act that Congress passed in April. Key provisions of that measure expire at the end of the month.

Here’s what’s in the bill:

  • $600 in direct payments to both adults and children, based on income;

  • $300 a week in extra unemployment benefits for 10 weeks;

  • $25 billion in rental assistance, extending the moratorium on evictions;

  • $280 billion for new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans;

  • $15 billion in grants for theaters and other performance venues;

  • $13 billion in additional food stamp and nutrition funding; and

  • $30 billion to purchase more COVID-19 vaccines.

Direct payments based on income

The direct payments to Americans are expected to be half the amount contained in the CARES Act, with more of the money targeted to people most in need. Households are expected to receive $600 per adult and $600 per child, with the amounts decreasing as income levels rise.

The extension of the eviction moratorium will likely head off a wave of evictions that would have begun January 1. The CARES Act prevented landlords from evicting tenants who are behind on their rent, but that provision expires with the end of the year.

A last-minute disagreement over the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending powers threatened to hold up an agreement, but Republicans and Democrats were able to reach a compromise.

Congress had to pass a one-day stopgap spending measure so lawmakers could vote today -- the aid package is part of a routine government spending authorization bill.

“At long last, we have the bipartisan breakthrough the country has needed,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Now we need to promptly finalize text, avoid any last-minute obstacles and cooperate to move this legislation through both chambers.”

That’s expected to happen later today.

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