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March 26, 2020

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US readies huge outbreak rescue package

THE White House and US Senate leaders of both parties announced agreement early yesterday on an unprecedented US$2 trillion emergency bill to rush sweeping aid to businesses, workers and a health-care system slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The urgently needed measure is the largest economic rescue bill in history. It is intended as a weeks-long or months-long patch for an economy spiraling into recession — and a nation facing a potentially ghastly toll. “To the American people, we say, big help, quick help is on the way,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday morning on CNN.

The massive bill is expected to include a US$500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments to millions of US families.

It will also include US$350 billion for small-business loans, US$250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least US$100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The sprawling, 500 page-plus measure is the third virus response bill produced by Congress and by far the largest, building on earlier efforts focused on vaccines and emergency response, sick and family medical leave for workers, and food aid.

The package aims to flood the US economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed more than 730 people in the United States and infected more than 53,470, shuttered thousands of businesses, thrown millions out of work and led states to order 100 million people — nearly a third of the population — to stay at home.

The package would give one-time direct payments to Americans — US$1,200 per adult making up to US$75,000 a year, and US$2,400 to a married couple making up to US$150,000, with US$500 payments per child.

Wall Street yesterday extended its massive bounce from the previous session after Congress reached the deal on the package. All three major US stock indexes were up in early trading.

The bill is expected to pass the Republican-led Senate easily, more so because Republican Senator Rand Paul, the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for COVID-19.

It must pass the Democratic-led House of Representatives, however. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed a more far-reaching rescue package, did not say whether she would support the Senate version.

It also must be signed by President Donald Trump, who said on Tuesday he wanted Americans to end “social distancing” restrictions and return to work by Easter, April 12.

That concerned health officials, who fear ending the lockdown too soon could bring more deaths.


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