The United States Senate has passed a new $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill several hours after it was approved by the House of Representatives. The bill includes an expansion of unemployment benefits and a second round of direct stimulus checks, but does not include direct aid to states and local governments.
The bill contains a $300 billion support package for businesses, schools, tenants facing evictions, and COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. The stimulus check included in the bill will see most Americans receive a one-time payment of $600, which is half of the $1200 in the first stimulus check given to Americans nearer the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment payments, meanwhile, have been increased by $300 per week.
The expansion to unemployment benefits comes at an ideal time, as unemployment rates are rising in states throughout the nation. Over 12 million unemployed Americans stood to lose their unemployment benefits by the end of December, but this new bill extends their relief programs until spring.
The aid bill took quite a long time to pass after facing many hurdles in Congress, with Democrats and Republicans unable to easily agree on exactly what aid should be provided and what the extent of that aid to be. However, in the end, the final bill was passed quite decisively by both chambers of Congress. The House of Representatives voted 359 in favor to 53 against, while the Senate voted 92 in favor to 6 against.
Explaining the minority of dissenting votes, lawmakers felt they did not have enough time to read the entirety of the bill, which is a whopping 5,600 pages. The Associated Press describes this as “the longest bill in memory and probably ever.”
Speaking on the bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “None of us think this legislation is perfect, but a big bipartisan majority of us recognize the incredible amount of good it will do when we send it to the president’s desk. The American people have waited long enough.”
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement that the bill delivered “urgently needed funds to save the lives and livelihoods of the American people as the virus accelerates.”
President Trump, who has the final say, is expected to sign the bill imminently. President-elect Joe Biden celebrated the passing of the bill on Twitter, but stressed that more needs to be done to fight the domestic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. “I applaud this relief package,” he said, “but our work is far from over. Starting in the new year, Congress will need to immediately get to work on support for our COVID-19 plan.”