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US House Passes $484 Billion COVID-19 Relief Bill, Trump to Sign

© REUTERS / Tom BrennerThe U.S. Capitol Building as seen ahead of a vote on the coronavirus (COVID-19) relief bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2020.
The U.S. Capitol Building as seen ahead of a vote on the coronavirus (COVID-19) relief bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2020.  - Sputnik International
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With the US House Representatives' vote of 388-5, Congress has passed the “Phase 3.5” relief bill, which dedicates federal funding to hospitals for ramped up COVID-19 novel coronavirus testing and more than $300 billion in bailouts for small businesses.

The overwhelmingly bipartisan House vote to advance the legislation comes two days after the Senate unanimously approved the bill via voice vote, allowing lawmakers to remain at home and avoid traveling back to Washington, DC, amid the pandemic. 

Phase 3.5 now goes to the desk of US President Donald Trump, who expressed Thursday evening that he will likely sign the bill in the coming hours. 

The $484 billion COVID-19 relief bill amends the bipartisan-backed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and provides a $310 billion expansion to the authorization level of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) - established to rescue small American businesses through loans subsequently forgiven if all employees remain on payroll for a period of eight weeks and funds are used for payroll, mortgage interests, utilities or rent.

Another $60 billion from the bill has been reserved for small businesses without existing banking relationships. Around $100 billion is earmarked for the Department of Health and Human Services, with $75 billion of that going toward the reimbursement of lost revenue to hospitals and health care providers amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who voted against the bipartisan-backed bill, explained that her opposition stemmed from the fact that New Yorkers will not be able to immediately access enhanced Unemployment Insurance benefits and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provided to state residents under the CARES Act, despite the presence of an undeniably urgent economic crisis for the hard-hit state. 

"My vote would be different today if we were planning on voting on CARES tomorrow or the week after that in the next two weeks. But the problem is that this is not an interim bill. This is the only bill we are voting on for the entire month of April," she noted, as reported by NBC News' Alex Moe on Twitter. 

Earlier, House representatives exhibited a distinct division as Democrats alone approved the formation of the House Oversight and Government Reform Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis with a 212-182 vote requiring a simple majority. The Republican opposition to the subcommittee's formation was supported by Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI), a former Republican who left the GOP in July 2019 and is currently the sole member of the House not belonging to one of the two major parties.

Hours before the lower house’s vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed the subcommittee’s creation was necessary and, in the coming months, will ensure “the federal response is based on the best possible science and guided by health experts, and that the money invested is not being exploited by profiteers and price gougers,” according to the Associated Press.

A number of GOP lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee have argued the subcommittee is a partisan plot to subvert the US president and issue a series of taxpayer-funded political attacks ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Before traveling to their respective homes last month, members of Congress were able to come together to pass the CARES Act,  a historic $2.2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package that was later signed into law by Trump on March 27. 

The bill provided financial relief to state and territorial governments, funding for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a notable $1,200 cash payment to single, childless taxpayers who reported annual earnings totaling less than $75,000. Marriage and the number of children claimed by a family were criteria used to determine whether one would receive less or more than the common $1,200 check.

Though Americans have expressed that the one-time stimulus check is not sufficient federal aid amid the US’ record unemployment, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent rhetoric suggested that it is unlikely the upper chamber will pass another novel coronavirus-targeted funding bill before Congress returns from a five-week recess on May 4.

“The best way to get the economy back [up] and running is to begin to open it up again, rather than passing immediately another bill where we have to borrow,” McConnell said in a Tuesday phone interview with Politico, arguing that Congress needs to be “cautious” concerning the “extraordinary numbers” being added to the national debt.

Furthermore, public skepticism over the government's accountability has emerged after so-called small business loans were extended to a large chain businesses, such as Shake Shack. A recent Forbes analysis on the PPP’s approval process revealed 71 publicly traded companies managed to snag loans before the program’s initial $350 billion in funding was all claimed.

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