The U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion relief package Wednesday night designed to alleviate some of the worst effects of the economic downturn underway as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The chamber approved the enormous bill — the largest economic rescue package in U.S. history — in a unanimous 96-0 vote after days of hostile negotiations, partisan sniping and raised tempers on the Senate floor. The bill now heads to the House, which will push to pass it by voice vote Friday morning.
The 880-page legislation includes direct payments to individuals, stronger unemployment insurance, loans and grants to businesses and more health-care resources for hospitals, states and municipalities. It includes requirements that insurance providers cover preventive services for COVID-19.
The agreement is an expansion of a Republican legislative proposal issued last week, dubbed the CARES Act — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — to provide relief to virtually every rung of the U.S. economic ladder.
The plan will rush financial assistance to Americans with direct checks to households in the middle class and in lower income levels, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky said. Previously, Republicans said this would amount to $1,200 to most American adults, among other payments.
Before passing the bill, the Senate rejected an amendment proposed by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., to cap unemployment insurance at a recipient’s previous wages. The bill adds $600 per week to the benefits a recipient would normally get for up to four months. Sasse’s amendment failed in a 48-48 vote. It will apply to traditional workers for small and large businesses as well as those who are self-employed and workers in the gig economy. This was a key Democratic initiative, which Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer dubbed “unemployment insurance on steroids.”
Other parts of the bill;
- More than $150 billion for the health care system, including funding for hospitals, research, treatment and the Strategic National Stockpile to raise supplies of ventilators, masks and other equipment. Of that, $100 billion will go to hospitals and the health system and $1 billion to the Indian Health Service.
- $150 billion to state and local governments to address spending shortages related to the coronavirus pandemic.
- $350 billion in the form of loans for small businesses impacted by the pandemic; some of those loans could be forgiven.
President Trump and top members of his administration gave their strong support to the bill Wednesday.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the unprecedented response from the Senate to protect American workers and American business in this situation,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at the daily White House coronavirus task force briefing, flanked by Trump, Vice President Pence and others.
The emergency aid package is the third Congress has taken up to offset the effects of the virus.