After months of delay, Congress to vote on massive coronavirus aid package

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – After months of inaction, the U.S. Congress was poised on Monday to vote on a $900 billion stimulus package that would provide new assistance for individuals and businesses battered by the surging coronavirus pandemic.

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The bill would see direct payments made to most Americans and provide enhanced payments to unemployed people. It would expand a small-business lending program and steer money to schools, airlines, transit systems, and vaccine distribution.

Democratic and Republican leaders of both the House of Representatives and the Senate said on Sunday that they expected it would pass with broad support, and the White House said President Trump will sign it into law.

President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, said he supported it as well but urged Congress to consider further stimulus for him to sign into law when he takes office on Jan. 20. “My message to everyone out there struggling right now, help is on the way,” he said in a statement.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to consider the measure when it convenes at 9:00 a.m. (1400 GMT), with a vote expected sometime during the day. The Senate could vote quickly after that. The measure would be attached to a larger $1.4 trillion spending bill that would fund U.S. government activity through September 2021.

The package, the first Congress-approved aid since March, comes as the pandemic is accelerating in the United States, infecting more than 214,000 people every day and slowing the economic recovery. More than 317,000 Americans have died.

The bill would be the second-largest stimulus package in U.S. history, behind only the $2.3 trillion aid bill passed this spring. Economists say that money played a critical role at a time when social-distancing measures shuttered wide swaths of the world’s largest economy.

The new bill reprises many of the key pillars of the earlier package, with some modifications. Small-business aid would be expanded to struggling news outlets and TV stations, while theaters and live-music venues would get dedicated support.

Unemployed workers would get an extra $300 per week through March, down from the $600 increase in the earlier bill. An eviction ban, due to expire at the end of the year, will be extended through January.

Lawmakers set aside issues that had frozen negotiations for months, including liability protections sought by Republicans and state and local government aid sought by Democrats. A last-minute dispute over emergency-lending programs administered by Federal Reserve was also resolved.

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