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Congress seals agreement on $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill

The relief package will establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans.

December 21, 2020  by Associated Press

After months of Washington gridlock, Congress is set to act on a $900 billion pandemic relief package, finally delivering long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The relief package, agreed to on Dec. 20 and expected to draw votes in Congress on Dec. 21, would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.

House and Senate leaders planned votes for Dec. 21 but the final measure was still being finalized. Lawmakers were eager to leave Washington and close out a tumultuous year.

It came together on Dec. 20 after months of battling and posturing and a post-election negotiating dynamic that reined in a number of Democratic demands as the end of the congressional session neared. President-elect Joe Biden was eager for a deal to deliver long-awaited help to suffering people and a boost to the economy, even though it was less than half the size that Democrats wanted this fall.

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Biden praised the bipartisan spirit that produced the measure, which he called “just the beginning.”

“This is a model for the challenging work ahead for our nation,” Biden said Sunday in a statement.

A fight over Federal Reserve emergency powers was resolved the night of Dec. 19 by the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, and conservative Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. That breakthrough led to a final round of negotiations Dec. 20.

Still, delays in finalizing the agreement prompted Congress to pass a one-day stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown at midnight Dec. 20.

The final agreement would be the largest spending measure yet. It combined $900 billion for COVID-19 relief with a $1.4 trillion government-wide funding plan and lots of other unrelated measures on taxes, health, infrastructure and education. The government-wide funding would keep the government open through September.

Passage neared as coronavirus cases and deaths spiked and evidence piled up that the economy was struggling. The legislation had been held up by months of dysfunction, posturing and bad faith. But talks turned serious in recent days as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before leaving Washington for Christmas.

After the announcement, Schumer and Pelosi, D-Calif., announced additional details, including $25 billion in rental assistance, $15 billion for theatres and other live venues, $82 billion for local schools, colleges and universities, and $10 billion for child care.


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