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The House passed the $900 billion relief bill and sent it to the Senate, where a vote was expected in the wee hours.

Congress passes $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, including $284 billion in PPP loans

Bill includes stimulus checks for most Americans but no direct support for the hard-hit restaurant industry

After months of partisan negotiations and stalemates, the U.S. House of Representatives, followed by the Senate hours later, voted to approve the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package on Monday night, which includes $284 billion in another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans. The 5,593-page bill that linked pandemic aid with Congress' $1.4 trillion annual spending bill — the longest ever passed by Congress, according to the Associated Press — arrived on lawmakers' desks at 2:00 pm EST, just hours before they were expected to vote on it. The bill now heads to President Trump's desk.

The agreement, which falls short of the original $2.2 trillion HEROES Act passed by House Democrats and ignored by the Republican-controlled Senate in October, also includes stimulus checks for up to $600 for most Americans, and a $300 per week federal unemployment insurance supplement for the next 11 weeks. 

“[This bill] is packed with targeted policies to help struggling Americans who have already waited too long,” U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement released Sunday night after Congress completed bipartisan negotiations. “For workers at the hardest-hit small businesses, there will be a targeted second draw of the Paycheck Protection Program. We have not worked so hard to save as many jobs as possible, all these months, only to fumble the ball with vaccinations already underway.”

One of the largest parts of the $900 billion package is the $284 billion second round of PPP loans, which would allow businesses, including those that received a PPP loan the first time around, a second chance at receiving a loan if they can show evidence of significant losses in 2020 over their 2019 revenue, according to Forbes. The bill also supposedly fixes the loophole that did not originally allow for the deductibility of expenses paid for with business loans, a clarification unpopular with the business community that was originally confirmed by the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service in November.

The PPP fund specifically sets aside $20 billion for companies in low-income areas and $12 billion for community based and minority owned lenders, as well as $20 billion to EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loans).

Other components of the bill meant to help workers affected by the pandemic include a $300 per week federal unemployment insurance supplement extension for 11 weeks through mid-March, as well as an extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs to “gig workers, freelancers, independent contractors, the self-employed and certain people affected by the coronavirus.”

Stimulus checks for Americans were a last-minute inclusion to the bill: most Americans will be eligible for up to $600 per adult (and $600 per child). Individuals that earned up to $75,000 and couples that earned up to $150,000 will receive the full $600 per person.

The industry-backed RESTAURANTS Act, which would establish a $120 million Restaurants Revitalization Fund specifically to provide relief for foodservice and drinking establishments, was not included in the relief package.

“Ten months into the pandemic, when countless restaurants and jobs have been lost, and indoor dining has again been shut in New York City, it’s shameful that the federal government again failed to enact the bipartisan RESTAURANTS Act, which would provide structured support to save these small businesses that have been uniquely devastated by COVID-19,” Andrew Rigie executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said in a statement. “[…] Another round of the Paycheck Protection Program is merely a band-aid on a cannon wound.”

The National Restaurant Association reiterated its position that the relief bill that would provide “short-term economic relief” is an adequate first step in offering much-needed aid for struggling businesses:

“Restaurants have waited months for a comprehensive relief bill that reflects the magnitude of this crisis,” Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “Today’s bipartisan action is a ‘down payment’ that recognizes the unique damage the pandemic is inflicting on our industry.

Here are other elements in the relief package passed by Congress Monday:

  • The federal eviction moratorium is extended through Jan. 31
  • $28 billion dedicated to the distribution of two FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines (and to making sure Americans get the vaccine for free)
  • $13 billion to SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs)
  • $45 billion to transportation
  • $82 billion to education
  • $10 billion to childcare assistance
  • $15 billion to entertainment venues and movie theaters
  • $7 billion for increase in broadband access

“The bill today is a good bill,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in Monday’s Congressional floor proceedings. “Today is a good day. But it's certainly not the end of the story, it cannot be the end of the story, anyone who thinks this bill is enough doesn't know what's going on in America."

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi

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