Washington — House lawmakers on Thursday voted to approve a $484 billion coronavirus relief package as new unemployment figures highlight the staggering toll the pandemic has taken on the U.S. job market. President Trump is now expected to sign the legislation, which lawmakers approved by a vote of 388-5.
The legislation, known as the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, is the result of weeks of negotiations between congressional Democrats and the White House. The measure includes $75 billion for hospitals, $25 billion to establish a national testing regime, $60 billion in disaster aid and $310 billion for the(PPP), which provides loans to small businesses to help them retain workers and meet payroll. The PPP exhausted its initial $349 billion in funding last week.
The vote comes as new government data showsfiled initial unemployment claims last week, raising the total number of people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic to about 26 million.
Roughly $60 billion in new funds going to the PPP will be specifically targeted to financial institutions serving rural, unbanked and minority-owned businesses, a key priority for Democrats.have been particularly affected by the pandemic, which has exacerbated preexisting structural issues that make it difficult for minority business owners to gain access to capital.
The vote comes as the House tries to figure out how to continue its work without endangering its members. House Democrats unveiled a resolution Wednesday allows members to, meaning that one member could vote on behalf of a colleague who is not present. But Republicans objected to the proposed rule change, arguing that the House needs to formally get back to work.
After discussions between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Democrats agreed to postpone a vote on a rule change for now, and the House instead voted to establish a bipartisan Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis to oversee billions of dollars in spending under multiple relief bills.
The House and Senate are not expected to formally reconvene until May. Democrats argue that lawmakers need to immediately begin working on another phase of relief legislation which would give more assistance to state and local governments, but Republicans have questioned whether it is necessary to begin working on new legislation so quickly.