The US Senate has finally agreed a massive bipartisan $2trn (£1.7trn) stimulus package with the White House to boost the country’s economy in response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak, the bill providing tax rebates, four months expanded unemployment benefits and a slew of business tax-relief provisions.
It is the largest economic rescue measure in history and is intended as a weeks – or months-long patch for an economy spiralling into recession and a nation facing a potentially ghastly toll.
Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement shortly after midnight, capping days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure. The deal still needs to be finalised in detailed legislative language.
The unprecedented package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367bn (£313bn) programme for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay at home.
One of the last issues to be finalised concerned $500bn (£427bn) for guaranteed, subsidised loans to larger industries, which included a dispute over how generous to be with the airlines. Hospitals will receive significant help as well.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said: “After days of intense discussions, the senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a historic relief package for this pandemic.
“It will rush new resources onto the front lines of our nation’s healthcare fight.
“And it will inject trillions of dollars of cash into the economy as fast as possible, to help Americans workers, families, small businesses and industries make it through this disruption and emerge on the other side ready to soar.”
The unprecedented economic rescue package would give direct a one-time payment of $1,200 (£1,025) per adult and $500 (£427) per child directly to the public.
A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of Covid-19 patients grew during the talks at the insistence of senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, while Republicans pressed for tens of billions of dollars for additional relief to be delivered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal disaster agency.
Democrats said the package would help replace the salary of furloughed workers for four months, rather than the three months first proposed.
Furloughed workers would get whatever amount a state usually provides for unemployment, plus a $600 (£512) per week add-on, with gig workers like Uber drivers covered for the first time.
“It ensures that all workers are protected whether they work for businesses small, medium or large, along with self-employed and workers in the gig economy,” Schumer said.
Republicans won inclusion of an “employee retention” tax credit that is estimated to provide $50bn (£42bn) to companies who retain employees on payroll and cover 50 per cent of workers’ pay cheques. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2 per cent Social Security payroll tax.
Democrats pointed to gains for hospitals, additional oversight of the huge industry stabilisation fund, and money for cash-strapped states.
Here’s Chiara Giordano’s report as the Asian markets respond warmly to the news.