WASHINGTON — The U.S. House and Senate on Dec. 21 gave approval to a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package that would start delivering benefits immediately. The House voted 359 for and 53 against HR 133 and the Senate voted 92 for and six against.
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-5, was the only Alabama representative or senator who voted against the bill.
The bill includes onetime payments of $600 to those with incomes under $75,000 and of $1,200 to couples earning less than $150,000; $300 per week through March 14 in added jobless benefits for laid-off employees as well as “gig economy” workers and the self-employed; $284 billion in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans for businesses with fewer than 300 workers that retain or reinstate employees; an expansion of PPP to include newspapers, radio and TV broadcasters, religious institutions and nonprofits; $82 billion for K-12 and post-secondary education with a focus on making classrooms COVID-free; tax credits for employers granting paid sick leave; and expanded earned-income and child tax credits for low-income families impacted by the pandemic. In addition, the bill would put an end to surprise billing for emergency and out-of-network medical care.
The bill also would provide $29 billion for purchasing and distributing vaccines; $25 billion in emergency rental aid plus a moratorium on evictions through January; $22 billion to help states address COVID-19; $20 billion targeted to Main Street businesses; $16 billion for airlines and $14 billion for mass transit plus a few billion for Amtrak and inner-city bus service; $15 billion for cultural venues and movie theaters; $13 billion for food stamps and nutrition programs to sustain hungry children; $13 billion for farmers and ranchers; $10 billion to keep child-care centers open; and $1.3 billion in forgiveness of federal loans for infrastructure repairs at historically Black colleges and universities. The bill also would expand Pell Grants for low-income college students and, for the first time, qualify those in prison for Pell grants to pay tuition costs.
The bill was joined with a $1.4 trillion measure to fund the government through September.
Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., said in debate: “With this bill, we are attempting to right our moral compass and fulfill our obligation (to) those suffering across our country, and guide us out of this dark winter.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, called the package “a targeted bill that focuses on providing a bridge between now and the time at which the vaccines will be widely available.”
Criticizing the bill’s deficit spending, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said the country “can be saved, we can survive this (pandemic) if we pull together, but adding more debt is a mistake.”
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said in a press release the bill would “rack up debt, fund the very local governments locking downs schools and businesses, extend federal subsidies to pay people more not to work than to work, fall short on desperately needed small business relief.”
A yes vote in the House was to send the bill to the Senate.
Alabama House members’ votes:
Voting yes: Bradley Byrne, R-1, Martha Roby, R-2, Robert Aderholt, R-4, Gary Palmer, R-6, Terri Sewell, D-7
Voting no: Mo Brooks, R-5
Not voting: Mike Rogers, R-3
A yes vote in the Senate was to send the bill to President Trump, who has criticized it heavily and as of Wednesday had not signed it.
Alabama Senate members:
Voting yes: Richard Shelby, R, Doug Jones, D
Voting no: None
KEY VOTES AHEAD
Congress will vote in the week of Dec. 28 on President Trump’s veto of the fiscal 2021 military budget.