Washington, 28 March 2020 (dpa/MIA) – President Donald Trump signed into law the massive coronavirus aid package aimed at helping workers and businesses that have been affected by the economic slowdown and also funnel more funds to the health care system.
The president held a signing ceremony just hours after Congress passed the unprecedented stimulus legislation, estimated to be worth up to 2.2 trillion dollars.
This is the third bill passed in Congress to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak. The first was worth 8.3 billion dollars and focused on medical issues and the second clocked in at 105 billion.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat, said she wants a fourth bill to help better fund state and local government and improve workers’ benefits.
“Our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions,” she said. She admitted that “no bill is perfect,” acknowledging concerns within her own party over how some of the money will be used.
Some Democrats felt the bill did not go far enough for workers and amounted to an unchecked bailouts for large corporations. A number of Republicans were alarmed at the size of the package, which will add to the national debt, and aspects that were not related to the virus.
Despite the passage, markets ended a three-day winning streak, as investors’ concerns shifted to worries over how the money will be dispersed and whether the stimulus will work.
The package includes direct payments to most taxpayers along with a system for loans to small businesses that may be forgiven if the money is used to keep employees on the payroll. Unemployment insurance will also be boosted.
Some 150 billion dollars will go to the health care system.
Separately, Trump ordered carmaker GM to produce ventilators, using the Defense Production Act, the first utilization of the measure during the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House had long resisted invoking the law, despite outcries from Democrats, governors and public health officials.
“GM was wasting time,” Trump said. In a statement, GM said is commitment to produce ventilators “never wavered.”
New York, the current epicentre of the outbreak in the US, is facing some of the toughest challenges, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has been demanding more ventilators, on top of other medical gear.
The state’s death toll spiked overnight, going from 385 to 519, Cuomo reported.
The governor said he will ask Trump to authorize four additional makeshift hospitals, including at a racetrack, college and cruise terminal, adding 4,000 hospital beds. A convention centre has already been converted into a field hospital.
Cuomo said the state expects a peak in the number of cases in “about 21 days.”
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States exceeded 100,000 late Friday, with more than 1,700 dead, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Covid-19 tracking map.
Nearly half of these were recorded in New York State.
Trump also issued authorized the Pentagon to call up members of reserve forces of the military for active duty to take part in efforts to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Former president Barack Obama had issued a similar order during the 2014 Ebola crisis.
Army engineers are involved in creating field hospitals while the national guard is also being utilized.
Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence appeared to walk back comments by Trump, who is pushing to reopen the economy by Easter, even as public health officials want continued shutdown measures.
Pence said on broadcaster CNBC Trump’s stated goal of reopening the economy by April 12 is “aspirational,” and that any decision would be made based on data.
He stressed the administration wants to relax restrictions “just as soon as we responsibly can.”
Decisions on stay-at-home orders are generally issued by state governors and local officials, but the federal government’s guidelines are crucial trendsetters.
Unemployment is spiking, as businesses have closed under the orders and amid concerns about the spread of the virus.