Washington, April 24 (IANS) The US House of Representatives has approved a new coronavirus stimulus package valued at $484 billion which includes loans for small business, increased funding for virus testing and assistance to hospitals.
The vote on Thursday came amid a tense atmosphere in which Democrats and Republicans exchanged reproaches as discussions went on for several hours longer than expected because lawmakers had to vote in shifts to avoid gathering in large groups as a precaution against contracting or spreading the virus, reports Efe news.
To become law, the package needs only the signature of President Donald Trump, who has already said that he was ready to sign it quickly.
During the debate on the bill, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, wearing a facemask and black gloves, gave emotional remarks in which she said she was dedicating the legislation to her sister, who she said is “presently dying” of COVID-19 in a St. Louis, Missouri, hospital.
The required number of votes to pass the measure was obtained at 5.30 p.m., although not all the 435 legislators in the lower house had yet voted.
The package received the overwhelming support of 388 lawmakers, including Democrats and Republicans, with just five lawmakers voting against it, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents part of the New York City boroughs of The Bronx and Queens, the US areas hardest-hit by the pandemic.
Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest Congressperson in US history, believes that the initiative does not go far enough because, for example, it does not include aid for people who are having difficulty paying their rent or mortgage.
The bill includes $321 billion in low-interest loans for small and medium businesses, $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion to increase the number of Covid-19 tests on the national level.
At first, Republicans wanted to ensure that the proposal only helped small businesses, but Democrats were able to get funds for hospitals and virus tests included in the final text.
This is the fourth coronavirus rescue or stimulus plan approved by Congress, and so far almost $3 trillion has been earmarked by lawmakers to mitigate the economic disruption caused by the pandemic.
Also on Thursday, the Department of Labor announced that more than 26 million people have applied for unemployment in the last five weeks, a sign of the seriousness of the pandemic’s economic impact, which has eliminated – temporarily, at least – all of the jobs created after the 2008 economic crisis.
As of Friday morning, the US reported 869,170 coronavirus cases, with 49,954 deaths, the highest tallies in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins University.