The Senate approved a sweeping pandemic relief package over Republican opposition on Saturday, moving President Joe Biden closer to a milestone political victory, the AP reports. The bill cleared by a party-line vote of 50-49 after a marathon overnight voting session and now heads back to the House for final passage. Democrats said their “American Rescue Plan” would help the country defeat the virus and nurse the economy back to health. Republicans criticized the $1.9 trillion package as more expensive than necessary. The measure follows five earlier virus bills totaling about $4 trillion that Congress has enacted since last spring. Highlights of the legislation include:
- Unemployment: Expanded unemployment benefits from the federal government would be extended through Sept. 6 at $300 a week.
- Checks: The legislation provides a direct payment to most taxpayers of $1,400 for a single taxpayer, or $2,800 for a married couple that files jointly, plus $1,400 per dependent.
- Government Aid: The legislation would send $350 billion to state and local governments and tribal governments for costs incurred up until the end of 2024.
- School Aid: The bill calls for about $130 billion in additional help to schools for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
- Business Aid: A new program for restaurants and bars hurt by the pandemic would receive $25 billion. The grants provide up to $10 million per company. The bill also provides $7.25 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program.
- Testing and Vaccines: The bill provides $46 billion to expand fed testing for COVID-19 and to enhance contract tracing capabilities. It also contains about $14 billion to speed up vaccination efforts.
- Tax Breaks: The bill would increase the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 for every child age 6 to 17 and $3,600 for every child under the age of 6. The bill also significantly expands the Earned Income Tax Credit for 2021 by making it available to people without children.
- Housing Assistance: The bill provides about $30 billion to help low-income households and the unemployed afford rent and utilities, and to assist the homeless with vouchers and other support. States and tribes would receive an additional $10 billion for homeowners who are struggling with mortgage payments because of the pandemic.
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