Trump signs fourth coronavirus relief package worth $484bn

Easy passage of latest aid measure belies a bumpier path ahead for future legislation to address pandemic.

Trump coronavirus bill
US President Donald Trump has signed a coronavirus aid package in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC [Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

United States President Donald Trump signed a $484bn bill on Friday to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 people in the US alone and devastated broad swaths of the economy.

The bill is the latest effort by the federal government to help keep afloat businesses that have had to close or dramatically alter their operations as states try to slow the spread of the virus. Over the past five weeks, roughly 26 million people have filed for jobless aid – that is about one in six US workers.

Trump – accompanied exclusively by Republican legislators and members of the administration in the Oval Office – thanked the US Congress for “answering my call” to provide the critical assistance and said it was “a tremendous victory”. But an easy passage of this aid instalment belies a potentially bumpier path ahead for future legislation to address the crisis.

Speaking to reporters at her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill on Friday, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defiantly stated that there will not be another rescue bill without aid for state and local governments hammered by declines in tax revenue because of the pandemic.

“There will be a bill and it will be expensive and we look forward to doing it as soon as possible because jobs are at stake,” Pelosi said.

She mocked Republicans in the US Senate, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for suggesting that it was time to put the brakes on new rescue packages because of their potential effect on the federal debt levels and because some of the fiscal problems currently faced by states predate the pandemic.

“Is this the same Mitch McConnell who let almost a $2 trillion tax cut that 83 percent of benefits went to the top 1 percent without even saying a word about its impact on the deficit?” she quipped.

Pelosi and her allies said the next measure should distribute more relief to individuals, extend more generous jobless benefits for several months, provide another round of direct payments to most people and help those who are laid off afford health insurance.

The cornerstone of the bill signed on Friday is $250bn in additional funds to help small- and medium-sized businesses with payroll, rent and other expenses while they ride out the pandemic. This programme provides forgivable loans so businesses can continue paying workers while they are forced to stay closed for social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

The legislation also contains $100bn demanded by Democrats for hospitals and a nationwide COVID-19 testing programme, along with $60bn for small banks and an alternative network of community development banks that focus on development in poorer urban neighbourhoods and rural areas ignored by many lenders. There is also $60bn for small business loans and grants delivered through the Small Business Administration’s existing disaster aid programme.

Supporters are already warning that the business-backed Payroll Protection Program will exhaust the new $250bn almost immediately. Launched just weeks ago, the programme quickly reached its lending limit after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. That left thousands of small businesses in limbo as they sought help.

The four coronavirus relief bills approved so far by Congress would deliver at least $2.4 trillion for business relief, testing and treatment, and direct payments to individuals and the unemployed, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The deficit is virtually certain to breach $3 trillion this year as a result.

Among the candidates for aid in the next bill is the Postal Service, which has more than 600,000 workers but is getting clobbered by COVID-19-related revenue losses. The White House remains adamantly opposed to any aid for the post office.

“They told me, it came right from the president: No money for the post office,” she said of the opposition. “Instead, inject Lysol into your lung as we shut down the states.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies