The U.S. House of Representatives passed a new 484-billion-dollar stimulus package on Thursday, aimed at aiding small businesses and hospitals, as well as providing new funding for coronavirus testing capacities.
The bill, which passed in an overwhelmingly bipartisan 388-5 vote, was already approved by the Senate and will move to President Donald Trump’s desk for an expected signature.
The package is the fourth in a series of unprecedented relief bills passed by the Congress, as the country reels from massive economic lockdown.
Over the past five weeks, more than 26 million people have filed for unemployment claims, as the government shut down parts of the economy to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
The core funding in the bill includes 320 billion dollars in loans for small- and medium- sized businesses through the Paycheck Protection Programme.
Firms that maintain most of their workers on the payroll will see loans used for salaries forgiven.
The first tranche of nearly 350 billion dollars for the Paycheck Protection Programme ran out last week, as businesses oversubscribed to the funds, and many smaller businesses are still clamouring for relief monies.
House members voted over the span of two hours, to enable social distancing, and some are expected to wear masks.
“Moments ago, the House passed urgently-needed assistance to fight this coronavirus and save lives.
“With my signature, the interim coronavirus relief package goes to the President’s desk,” House leader Nancy Pelosi said in a tweet.
There are concerns that state and local governments will face funding shortfalls, in what appears to be the next partisan battle.
The centre-left Democrats have called for more federal assistance to the states, but Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, indicated this week he prefers for local governments to declare bankruptcy.
Some of the hardest hit states in the country, including New York, are run by Democratic governors.
The House on Thursday also passed legislation to establish an oversight panel to monitor the spending and federal government response to the coronavirus.
The 212-182 vote was along party lines with Democrats in favour and Republicans opposing the measure, claiming the committee would be used as a political weapon against Trump.
Pelosi said the subcommittee was necessary to ensure taxpayer dollars are not “being squandered.”
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