Trump, Under Pressure, Signs $900 bn COVID Relief Bill

U.S. President Donald Trump eventually signed a huge $900 billion stimulus bill Sunday, after almost a week's delay and under pressure from all sides, in a long-sought boost for millions of Americans and companies ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

The package "providing coronavirus emergency response and relief" is part of a larger spending bill that, with Trump's signature, will avoid a government shutdown on Tuesday, reports AFP.

"I am signing this bill to restore unemployment benefits, stop evictions, provide rental assistance, add money for PPP (Paycheck Protection Programs), return our airline workers back to work, add substantially more money for vaccine distribution, and much more," the president said in a statement from his Christmas vacation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

The turnaround came after a day marked by calls for action from both sides of the political spectrum to avert an economic and social catastrophe, especially for marginalized communities in America.

According to The Century Foundation think tank, two federal unemployment compensation schemes approved in March as part of an initial Covid-19 relief package expired at midnight on Saturday, cutting off an estimated 12 million Americans.

The relief package, which was first approved by Congress on 21 December, extends certain benefits and other benefits that are due to expire in the days ahead.

But for days, Trump had declined to place his signature on it, calling the bill an embarrassment, and with his grievances, which came after months of talks, catching both Democrats and Republicans off guard.

Influential Republican senator Mitt Romney said he was "relieved" at the signing. "Help is now on the way to workers, families, and small businesses across the country who are desperately in need," he tweeted.

Earlier Sunday, he had urged Trump to "immediately sign or veto the COVID-19 relief package so Congress can act before it's too late."

 - Crucial aid –

In his statement Sunday, the president continued to push for the $600 direct payments to US taxpayers spelled out in the bill to be more than tripled, and argued the legislation included too much excess spending on unrelated programs.

He has not said why he waited until the bill was already approved to make his views known.

The new stimulus package extends federal assistance to unemployed citizens by mid-March and offers guaranteed loans and billions of dollars in aid to small companies, restaurants, hotels, airlines and other businesses.

It extends the expulsion moratorium for citizens unable to pay their rent, suspends foreclosures and provides funding for the delivery of vaccinations for Covid-19.

The aid is essential to the world's largest economy, hit hard by restrictions put in place to halt the spread of Covid-19.

"I applaud the President's decision to get billions of dollars of crucial COVID-19 relief out the door and into the hands of American families," tweeted Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the bill "a down payment on what is needed to crush the virus, put money in Americans' pockets & honor our heroes."

"We must quickly take further action," she added in a tweet.

- 'Chaos and misery' –

Romney was not the only politician to have urged the president to change course Sunday.

"I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks, but the danger is he'll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire," Republican Senator Pat Toomey told Fox News on Sunday.

Senator Bernie Sanders said that "what the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel."

"Many millions of people are losing their extended unemployment benefits," he said on ABC.

"They're going to be evicted from their apartments because the eviction moratorium is ending."

Sanders said increased direct payments could be approved in the coming days.

Democrats in Congress tried to pass a bill Thursday to raise direct payments in line with what Trump wants, but it was blocked by Republicans.

It was widely seen as a dramatic move intended to reveal the divide between Republicans and the outgoing president, with little chance of passage.

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