Trump signs bill providing $484 billion more in virus relief for employers and hospitals

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President Donald Trump signed a $484 billion deal bill Friday to help employers and hospitals under stress from coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 Americans and wide swaths devastated of the economy

The bill is the latest effort by the federal government to help keep afloat businesses that have had to close or drastically modify operations as states try to slow the spread of the virus. In the last five weeks, about 26 million people applied for unemployment aid, or about 1 in 6 American workers.

Trump thanked Congress for “answering my call” to provide critical assistance, calling it “a tremendous victory.” But the easy passage of this aid quota belies a potentially bumpier path for future legislation to address the crisis.

Trump said most of the funding in the bill would flow to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides small businesses with money to keep workers on their payroll.

“Great for small businesses, great for workers,” Trump said.

Measure passed by Congress almost unanimously Thursday, when lawmakers met in Washington as a group for the first time since March 27. They followed stricter social distancing rules as they sought to show that they can do their jobs despite the COVID-19 crisis.

Lawmakers’ face masks and bandannas added a somber tone to their effort to help a nation reeling from the health crisis and devastating economic costs of the pandemic.

“Millions of people out of work,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat. “This is really a very, very, very sad day. We hit the floor with almost 50,000 deaths, a huge number of people affected, and the uncertainty of it all.”

The anchor of the bill is the Trump administration’s $250 billion request to replenish a fund to help small and medium-sized businesses with payroll, rent and other expenses. This program provides forgivable loans so businesses can continue to pay workers while they are forced to remain closed due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

The legislation contains the $100 billion demanded by Democrats for hospitals and a nationwide testing program, along with $60 billion for small banks and an alternative network of community development banks that focus on development in urban neighborhoods and rural areas. ignored by many lenders. There is also $60 billion for small business loans and grants delivered through the Small Business Administration’s existing disaster relief program.

More coronavirus relief is likely to pass in the coming weeks. Supporters are already warning that the company-backed Paycheck Protection Program will drain the new $250 billion almost immediately. Launched just a few weeks ago, the program quickly reached its loan limit after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. That left thousands of small businesses in limbo as they looked for help.

Pelosi and her allies said the next measure will dole out more relief to people, extend more generous unemployment benefits through the fall, bring another round of direct payments to most people and help those who have been laid off pay for health insurance. through COBRA.

Democrats tried to win another round of funding for state and local governments in Thursday’s bill, but were rebuffed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who says he will try to curb runaway deficit spending. . McConnell says he doesn’t want to bail out Democratic-led states from pre-pandemic fiscal problems, but there’s also plenty of demand for state tax relief among Republicans.

After the Senate passed the bill on Tuesday, McConnell said Republicans would not consider more coronavirus rescue legislation until the Senate returns to Washington in May. He promised rank-and-file Republicans to have more of a say in future legislation, rather than leaving it to bipartisan leaders.

Pelosi attacked McConnell for initially opposing adding money to her original $250 billion package and saying that cash-strapped states should be able to file for bankruptcy, a move they currently cannot do and that would threaten a wide range of state services. . McConnell’s comments drew protests, including from Republican governors, and he later moderated his comments.

The four coronavirus relief bills passed by Congress so far would deliver at least $2.4 trillion for business relief, testing and treatment, and direct payments to individuals and the unemployed, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The deficit is almost certain to top $3 trillion this year.

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