U.S Senate passes $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill

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Published: Mar. 6, 2021 at 4:08 PM EST
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WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate has passed a sweeping pandemic relief package over Republican opposition, moving closer to a milestone political victory for President Joe Biden. The $1.9 trillion bill approved Saturday carries direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans, extended emergency unemployment benefits and spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing. It also provides billions to states and cities, schools and ailing industries. Democrats say their “American Rescue Plan” will help the country defeat the virus and nurse the economy back to health. Republicans criticize the measure as more expensive than necessary. The bill is now headed to the House for final passage.

The vote was 50-49.

Republican U.S Senator Susan Collins voted against the bill. In a press release from Senator Collins, she says, “Regrettably, there was no interest from Democratic Leadership in negotiating a targeted, bipartisan relief package that meets the challenges at hand.  Instead, Democrats chose to ram through a partisan bill using a partisan process.  The only thing bipartisan about this package was the opposition in the House.  Under the guise of providing COVID-19 relief, the Democratic leaders proposed a bloated $1.9 trillion package stuffed full of provisions that have nothing to do with fighting the coronavirus, from either a public health or economic perspective. The bill also picks winners and losers.  For instance, rather than allocating state aid based on population size as Congress did previously, a new formula will result in a cut of $155 million for the State of Maine.”

Senator Collins and 11 other Republican Senators introduced an alternative $650 billion package. In the press release, she says, “There is widespread support in Congress to pass a sixth package to increase funding for the distribution of the vaccine and to help struggling families, workers, small business owners, and health care providers.  I led a group of 11 Republican Senators in proposing a targeted $650 billion bill that would have done just that. Among other provisions, our amendment would have supported rural health care providers, helped students return to their classrooms, extended unemployment assistance, sent direct $1400 checks to low- and middle-income Americans, expanded access to child care, increased resources for substance use and mental health, bolstered nutrition assistance programs, and sustained small businesses and jobs across the country.

Independent Senator Angus King voted for the bill.

In a press release sent from the Senator, he says, “The COVID relief bill includes $160 billion in essential funding to address the ongoing public health emergency, ensuring we have the resources needed to control this virus and vaccinate the American people. These investments in our healthcare system are vital – but they are only one piece of the work that must be done to repair the damage caused by this pandemic. You may have heard the charge that ‘only 9% of this bill relates to COVID, and the rest is some kind of political wish list.’ This is flat wrong and deliberately misleading. This legislation will also address the secondary effects of COVID-19 – including delivering desperately-needed financial support to working families through targeted direct payments, extending unemployment benefits, and providing additional resources to help school districts safely reopen. The bill also addresses longstanding inequalities exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic by adjusting Child Tax Credit to help lift 10,000 Maine children out of poverty and investing key resources into broadband expansion, which is essential to remote learning, telehealth for seniors, and working from home – all crucial in our fight against the impacts of the pandemic.”

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