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Congress reaches agreement on $900 billion COVID-19 relief package

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Posted at 5:52 AM, Dec 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-20 19:01:05-05

WASHINGTON — Leaders in Congress say they have reached a deal on a $900 billion long-awaited COVID-19 relief package, according to multiple reports. The announcement comes Sunday evening, after months of negotiations.

"Moments ago, the four leaders of the Senate and the House finalized an agreement. It will be another major rescue package for the American people," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced on the Senate floor.

Exact details are not released yet. It is expected to include $300-a-week in supplemental jobless benefits, direct payments of $600 for individuals, more than $300 billion in small business loans and more than $80 billion for schools, as well as billions for help with vaccine distribution. Nothing is final, though, until the final language of the bill is released.

The bill's text must be finalized, then given to the House and Senate for a vote. Then it will head to President Donald Trump to sign. Even though lawmakers are moving the process along quickly, it appears unlikely it will be up for a vote in both houses Sunday night.

The pandemic relief package is connected to a larger $1.4 trillion spending package that must get passed by Congress Sunday to keep the government open Monday morning and fund it through September 30, 2021. Congress passed a two-day government funding bill Friday evening to push the shutdown deadline to Sunday night at midnight.

The House is preparing to approve a one-day extension of government funding, according to the Washington Post, to allow the COVID-19 relief package to be finalized so both measures can be voted on together either late Sunday or early Monday morning.

The possibility of a relief bill deal happened earlier in the day Sunday, after late-night conversations Saturday over a key sticking point about the role of the Federal Reserve.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey had pushed a provision late last week to pull back to the role of the central bank’s emergency lending authority, after it was given some abilities with the CARES ACT earlier this year. He wanted to rescind some of the unused funds from the emergency loan program, as well as stop some of the changes to the Fed approved in the CARES Act.

Democrats said the provision would tie the hands of President-elect Biden’s administration and limit options for aid in 2021. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer worked with Toomey late into the night Saturday to work out a compromise.

"We're getting very close, very close," Schumer told CNN as he left the Capitol, predicting the House and Senate would vote to approve the package Sunday

Aides said Saturday night the two had reached a deal in principle over the provision.

The relief bill is not expected to have money for state and local government aid, something Democrats had been pushing for as municipalities experience sharp declines in tax revenues. However, the measure is expected to extend the deadline for using CARES Act funding from earlier this year. The deadline to use that funding without losing it had been the end of the year, now it will reportedly be pushed off for a few more months.

There is also expected to be relief for renters in the measure, according to the Washington Post, however no word yet on how that help will be administered.

President Trump has not been involved in recent talks about a relief package, and it is not clear how he will respond to the latest deal.