US Congress approves history’s largest aid package to help fight coronavirus

WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives passed a historic $2 trillion rescue package Friday that injects cash into the pockets of struggling Americans and fortifies an economy so ravaged by coronavirus that it is sliding toward recession.

After clearing the Senate earlier this week, and as the United States became the new global epicenter of the pandemic with 92,000 confirmed cases of infection, Republicans and Democrats united to greenlight the nation’s largest-ever economic relief plan.

It now goes to President Donald Trump, who has indicated he will quickly sign the measure into law, triggering millions of rebate checks of up to $3,400 for an average American family of four.

“Our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst pandemic in over 100 years,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told colleagues shortly before the chamber passed the measure by a voice vote.

The bill will pump $100 billion into hospitals and health facilities in critical need of medical gear like personal protective equipment and ventilators, create a $500 billion loan reserve for large corporations including airlines, and provide $377 billion in grants to suffering small businesses.

It also dramatically expands unemployment assistance, aid that will cushion the blow for a staggering 3.3 million people who filed jobless claims in the week ending March 21.

“We are laying the foundation for a rapid economic recovery,” said top House Republican Kevin McCarthy, as several others hailed the measure as a critical lifeline for workers and small businesses.

The vote was notable on multiple levels, including for the implementation of social distancing rules that prevented too many lawmakers from gathering on the floor and led to the unprecedented scene of members sitting in the upper galleries to allow for sufficient spacing.

With the House in recess this week, leaders had wanted a quick voice vote requiring just a few members present.

But Republican Thomas Massie, who opposed the bill, threatened to stall the measure, prompting hundreds of lawmakers to rush to Washington if needed for a roll call vote.

Ultimately the House defeated Massie’s maneuver and passed the bill by a voice vote, leading to applause and cheers in the chamber.

Trump savaged Massie on Twitter as a “third rate Grandstander” whose stunt was “dangerous & costly.”

One congresswoman, Democrat Haley Stevens, wore pink latex gloves as she addressed the chamber, raising her voice and waving her hands dramatically as she urged Americans to support health care workers.

“To our doctors and nurses, I wear these latex gloves to tell every American, do not be afraid,” she said.

Pelosi said the trillion-dollar rescue — the third and by far largest coronavirus measure — will not be the end of government assistance to ravaged communities.

“We must advance a fourth bill to address continued needs,” she said, noting that state and local governments would need “vastly more” funding to address the crisis.

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