House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. arrives on Capitol Hill, Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Washington.
Andrew Harnik | AP
The House passed a $484 billion package Thursday to bolster small businesses and hospitals ravaged by the coronavirus crisis and expand testing desperately needed to start the return to normal life.
Donning face coverings and voting in alphabetical sets to cut the risk of infection, representatives approved the bill easily by a 388-5-1 vote. One member, independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, voted “present.” The House sends the proposal to President Donald Trump, who is set to sign it into law in the coming hours.
Before the chamber passed the plan to try to rescue a crumbling U.S. economy, it also approved a Democratic-majority select subcommittee to oversee the Trump administration’s use of a $500 billion pool of aid for corporations, states and municipalities. Congress approved those funds last month.
Between votes, House staff swept through the chamber to clean and disinfect it. Representatives came back to the Capitol in force Thursday for the first time in about a month.
Once signed into law, the legislation will bring the government’s total emergency response to an unprecedented total of more than $2.5 trillion across four bills. After days of sniping over what the measure should include, lawmakers replenished a key $350 billion small business aid program that dried up last week.
The bill passed Thursday includes:
- $310 billion in new funds for the so-called Paycheck Protection Program, which gives small firms loans that could be forgiven if they use them on wages, benefits, rent and utilities. Within that pool, $60 billion will specifically go to small lenders, a priority Democrats pushed for after they blocked a $250 billion funding bill earlier this month.
- $60 billion for Small Business Administration disaster assistance loans and grants.
- $75 billion in grants to hospitals overwhelmed by a rush of Covid-19 patients.
- $25 billion to bolster coronavirus testing, a core piece of any plan to restart the U.S. economy.
Four Republicans and one Democrat voted against the proposal. The lone Democrat who opposed it was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents hard-hit areas of the Bronx and Queens. She argued the bill did not go far enough to help struggling individuals and governments.
The bill’s approval likely will not end the government’s response to the outbreak or disagreements about how best to reduce the devastating toll on Americans’ health and paychecks. The first round of small businesses funding was committed just days after it became available — though it is unclear how many companies have actually received it — and the new money could also dry up quickly.
Democrats have pushed for an additional bill to send money to states and municipalities asking the federal government to help them cover budget crunches created by the pandemic, among other priorities for the party. While Trump has said he supports passing the aid, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that he supports allowing states to declare bankruptcy instead.
The destruction coronavirus has wrought shows in mounting infections, deaths, layoffs and furloughs. The U.S. now has more than 850,000 Covid-19 cases, and the disease has killed at least 47,000 people, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
More than 26 million people have filed for unemployment insurance over the latest five-week period, according to government data released Thursday. While some states will start to reopen — against the wishes of Trump administration health officials — many more will keep businesses shuttered for weeks longer to slow the disease’s spread.
As they look ahead to the next legislation, Democratic leaders have called for hazard pay for Americans still required to go into their workplaces, national mail-in ballots to make voting safer and money to rescue the U.S. Postal Service. Trump has pushed for a sprawling infrastructure plan — an area where he and Democrats have failed to reach accord so far in his presidency — along with incentives for restaurant and entertainment spending and a payroll tax cut.
Republican congressional leaders, meanwhile, have grown more wary of spending as the government tab during the crisis approaches $3 trillion.