ADDS DETAILS THROUGHOUT
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. Senate passed a massive $484 billion package Tuesday with hundreds of millions of dollars to assist small businesses amid an economic downturn caused by the novel coronavirus.
The package, which also includes funding for national coronavirus testing and assistance for hospitals in the midst of the pandemic, passed with a unanimous voice vote.
The vote follows an agreement between Congressional leaders and the White House that was announced earlier Tuesday.
President Donald Trump has said he will sign the package into law as soon as it reaches his desk. Before that happens, the House of Representatives will also have to approve the plan. That vote could happen as soon as Thursday.
The package provides a badly-needed injection of cash for the Paycheck Protection Program, a small business loan initiative that ran out of cash last week after being created by lawmakers in March.
Successive state governments have enacted rules mandating the closure of non-essential businesses and orders to keep residents at home in an effort to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus. That has resulted in a widespread economic downturn which has imperiled state and local economies.
The small business loan program was created with an initial $350 billion, showing the dire need for additional aid as states continue to wrangle with the processes they will undertake to reopen their economies balanced against health safety concerns.
The Senate-approved package includes some $75 billion for hospitals to aid them as they treat coronavirus patients and $25 billion for national testing.
The U.S. remains the country hardest-hit by the pandemic, with 820,104 people testing positive and 44,228 fatalities caused by the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.