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US Congress passes COVID-19 $900B relief package and extends COVID-19 protections

Matthew Borges | U. Pittsburgh School of Law, US December 22, 2020 11:36:37 am

The US Congress Monday passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package that provides support for individuals, businesses, and vaccination efforts. The House of Representatives voted 359-53 in favor of the bill, and the Senate voted 92-6 to pass it. The White House has stated that President Trump will sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

The Associated Press reported that the 5,593-page bill is “by far the longest bill ever” and includes $1.4 trillion to fund the federal government until next September. For individuals, the package provides a $600 payment to those making under $75,000 and to their children. It also provides for an additional $300 weekly unemployment payment through mid-March, a temporary 15 percent increase on food stamp benefits, and an extension on the existing eviction moratorium.

Publicly traded companies are now excluded from the program following allegations of misuse by such companies in past COVID-19 relief bills. The bill also provides $284 billion in new Paycheck Protection Program loans with expanded eligibility for nonprofits and local news outlets. An additional, $15 billion was specifically set aside for live entertainment venues and $10 billion to assist child care centers in reopening. Funding for state vaccine distribution and increased testing is now included, along with $20 billion to provide no-cost vaccines for those who need them.

Starting in 2022, the bill will also provide an end to surprise medical billing from out-of-network providers. Patients will pay the deductible or copayment amount they would have been responsible for with an in-network provider. These surprise medical bills can show up when patients receive emergency care or when patients are unknowingly treated by an out-of-network physician at an in-network hospital. This will not apply where patients consent to out-of-network treatment in advance and are provided with a cost estimate. The bill covers air ambulance services but not ground ambulances.

The bill also includes $1.4 billion for President Trump’s border wall, “$10 billion for 46 Army Corps of Engineers flood control, environmental and coastal protection projects,” “$7 billion to increase access to broadband Internet,” “$45 billion in transportation-related assistance,” “$82 billion in funding for schools and universities to assist with reopening,” and $13 billion for farmers and agriculture.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated, “We can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a very long time: More help is on the way.” Republicans “Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin” were the only Senators to vote against the bill.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi commented, “I consider this a first step, and again, more needs to be done.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stated, “This is an emergency survival package, and when we come back in January, our No. 1 job will be to fill in the gaps left by the bill and get the economy moving with strong federal input.”


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