President Donald Trump signed a $484 billion bill Friday to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 Americans and devastated the economy.
The bill is the latest effort by the federal government to help keep businesses that have had to close or dramatically alter their operations afloat as states try to slow the spread of the virus. Over the past five weeks, roughly 26 million people have filed for jobless aid or about 1 in 6 U.S. workers.
Trump said most of the funding in the bill would flow to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides money to small businesses to keep workers on their payroll.
“Great for small businesses, great for the workers,” Trump said.
The measure passed Congress almost unanimously Thursday as lawmakers gathered in Washington as a group for the first time since March 27. They followed stricter social distancing rules while seeking to prove they can do their work despite the COVID-19 crisis.
“Millions of people out of work,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “This is really a very, very, very sad day. We come to the floor with nearly 50,000 deaths, a huge number of people impacted, and the uncertainty of it all.”
The Trump Administration is anchoring the bill’s $250 billion requests to replenish a fund to help small and medium-sized businesses with payroll, rent, and other expenses. This program provides forgivable loans so businesses can continue paying workers while forced to stay closed for social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
The legislation contains $100 billion demanded by Democrats for hospitals and a nationwide testing program, along with $60 billion for small banks and an alternative network of community development banks that focus on development in urban neighborhoods and rural areas ignored by many lenders. There’s also $60 billion for small-business loans and grants delivered through the Small Business Administration’s existing disaster aid program.
Passage of more coronavirus relief is likely in the weeks ahead. Supporters are already warning that the business-backed Paycheck Protection Program will exhaust the new $250 billion almost immediately. Launched just weeks ago, the program quickly reached its lending limit after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. Leaving thousands of small businesses in limbo as they sought help.
Pelosi and allies said the next measure will distribute more relief to individuals, extend more generous jobless benefits into the fall, provide another round of direct payments to most people and help those who are laid off afford health insurance through COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act).
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.
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.