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Congress passes $900B COVID-19 bill, including stimulus payments

Congress passes $900B COVID-19 bill, including stimulus payments
Congress will vote Monday on a $900 billion coronavirus aid package and a spending measure to keep the government operating. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Congress on Monday approved a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill and a government funding measure in a deal reached over the weekend.

The House voted to approve the two long-awaited bills on Monday evening, followed by the Senate near midnight.

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It will now go to President Donald Trump, who has said he will sign it.

The package contains direct stimulus payments for individuals of $600 to $700. It also includes enhanced federal unemployment benefits of $300 per week, $330 billion for small business loans, more than $80 billion for schools and several billion dollars to cover the costs of distributing COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC Monday the first stimulus payments should be sent out next week.

"This is a very, very fast way of getting money into the economy," he said. "Let me emphasize: People are going to see this money at the beginning of next week."

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"People go out and spend this money, and that helps small business and that helps getting more people back to work."

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"While this bill is far from perfect -- nor is it the bill that we would pass if Democrats had a majority in the Senate -- it is a strong shot in the arm to help American families weather the storm," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday.

"And this is just the first step; this is an emergency. We need a second bill to continue dealing with the emergency and to start stimulating our economy so we get back to where we were."

"President Trump has pushed hard for months to send Americans badly needed financial relief," White House spokesman Ben Williamson said Sunday. "We look forward to Congress sending a bill to his desk imminently for signature."

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The deal also expands eligibility under the Paycheck Protection Program for nonprofits and local newspapers, television and radio broadcasters, as well as "key modifications" to assist independent restaurants.

Also included is $15 billion for live performance venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions.

Democrats announced they had secured $25 billion in rental assistance for families and an extension of the eviction moratorium, as well as $13 billion in increased food stamp and child nutrition benefits "to help relieve the historic hunger crisis that has left up to 17 million children food insecure."

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The bill does not include a couple of major items sought by each party -- aid for state and local governments requested by Democrats and a liability shield to protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits sought by Republicans.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced Sunday that lawmakers had come to an agreement on a new COVID-19 aid package and an accompanying $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill to avoid a federal shutdown. The spending bill would fund the federal government until October.

Congress had adopted a two-day short-term funding extension on Friday to prevent a shutdown. A one-day spending measure was then reached to cover Monday and avoid a shutdown that would have begun at midnight Sunday.

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