The United States Senate passed an amended version of President Joe Biden’s USD $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, sending the legislation back to the US House of Representatives for final approval.
US legislators worked through a series of amendments on Saturday morning before passing the legislation in a 50-49 vote.
Republican and Democratic senators argued over how long to extend enhanced unemployment benefits for and how much to offer during the pandemic, which has left millions of Americans reeling and battered the country’s economy.
The bill will return to the House of Representatives for final congressional approval next week, after which legislators can send it to Biden for his signature.
“When we took office 45 days ago, I promised the American people that help was on the way. Today, I can say we’ve taken one more giant step forward in delivering on that promise,” Biden said at a news conference on Saturday.
“It obviously wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was so desperately needed – urgently needed,” Biden told reporters.
The bill has been one of Biden’s top priorities in the early weeks of his presidency, as he had promised to enact a programme to tackle the surging pandemic and provide financial support for hard-hit citizens.
The United States recorded more than 28.9 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 523,400 coronavirus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
American Rescue Plan Act of 2021
The bill provides direct payments of up to USD $1,400 for most Americans, extended emergency unemployment benefits, and vast piles of spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, states and cities, schools and ailing industries.
It also includes tax breaks to help lower-earning people, families with children and consumers buying health insurance.
The extended unemployment payments, which are to be paid out on top of state jobless benefits, proved to be the most contentious part of the bill. The House bill had set the supplemental benefit at USD $400 a week, but Senate Democrats finally agreed to knock that down to USD $300.
The House bill also featured a measure to more than double the minimum wage to USD $15 an hour, which the Senate also rejected.
The bill grants USD $40.17 billion to small businesses, USD $350 billion to help state, local, and tribal governments bridge budget shortfalls.
To improve ventilation in college and school buildings, reduce class sizes to make social distancing possible, purchase personal protective equipment, and hire support staff, the bill reserves USD$ 170 billion.