The U.S. Congress has passed a massive year-end bill that includes a $900 billion coronavirus aid package and $1.4 trillion in annual government funding.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the measure with overwhelming support late Monday, with lawmakers having only a few hours to look over the more than 5,000-page bill. They were facing a midnight deadline to keep the U.S. government funded.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill in the coming days.
The legislation comes after weeks of negotiations during which Democratic and Republican leaders clashed over how much government assistance to provide for coronavirus relief and whether the focus should be on items such as jobless benefits or keeping open the economy.
It also comes during a surge in COVID-19 infections, with the United States recording more than 18 million confirmed cases as of Monday night — adding more than 200,000 cases per day — and with the country’s death toll standing at more than 319,000 people, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
One of the main components of the bill is $600 direct payments to most people, with the amount phasing out for those with incomes above $75,000 per year. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said millions of Americans could begin seeing stimulus payments as soon as next week. A previous round of $1,200 stimulus payments was included in a much larger coronavirus relief bill in March.
The new bill also includes $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, an initiative meant to help businesses keep workers employed during a period in which the economic pressure of the pandemic may have forced added layoffs.
There is also $300 per week in unemployment benefits for 11 weeks, as well as $82 billion for local schools and universities, $25 billion in rental assistance, $15 billion for theaters and $10 billion for child care. There is also $4 billion to help other countries with vaccination efforts for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“The American people can rest assured that more help is on the way, immediately,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
Democrats had pushed for a much larger relief package, with the House passing a $3 trillion package in May and a $2 trillion version in October. But Republicans opposed that level of spending and pushed for a more focused relief effort.
With President-elect Joe Biden set to take office in a month, Democrats are saying the new relief bill is just a first step of what is to come.
“I applaud this relief package, but our work is far from over,” Biden tweeted early Tuesday. “Starting in the new year, Congress will need to immediately get to work on support for our COVID-19 plan.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said anyone who considers the new aid as sufficient “hasn’t heard the desperation in the voices of their constituents, has not looked into the eyes of the small business owner on the brink of ruin.”
McConnell, in comments to the Associated Press, signaled a wait-and-see approach from the Republicans.
“My view about what comes next is let's take a look at it,” he said. “Happy to evaluate that based upon the needs that we confront in February and March."
Any new round of spending will be highly dependent on two January 5 runoff elections for Senate seats representing the state of Georgia that will either keep Republicans in control of the chamber or give Democrats the advantage of holding both houses of Congress and the White House.
The total $1.4 trillion spending package funds the U.S. government through September.
It includes an extension of tax breaks for numerous businesses for at least the next year, $45 billion for transportation needs including railroad operator Amtrak, and $13 billion for a major expansion in food stamps.