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US Senate passes Biden’s $1.9tn COVID relief plan

Washington: President Joe Biden’s COVID relief bill which aims to help American people deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic was passed by the US Senate here on Saturday by a single vote.

The $1.9tn (£1.4tn) plan was approved in the Senate despite every Republican senator voting against.

The House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Democrats is expected to approve it next Tuesday, which Mr Biden hoped will be quickly passed in the House so that he could sign it into law.

Mr Biden described the Senate vote as “one more giant step forward” in delivering the promise to help the American people deal with the economic hardship brought about by the COVID pandemic.

The COIVD pandemic has turned out to be America’s worst public health crisis in a century and made the worst affected country in the world with nearly 523,000 people dead and 29 million infected and the current unemployment rate standing at 6.2%.

The relief package which is the third since the start of the pandemic envisages one-off payments worth $1,400 to be sent to most Americans, which Mr Biden said could begin distribution later this month.

Republicans who have consistently opposed the bill say the plan is too costly. Even some Democrats have also voiced criticism of certain provisions and the party’s leadership was forced to make a number of compromises, notably the lowering of federal unemployment benefit from $400 to $300 a week. The benefit will be extended until September 6 under the plan.

The rescue plan also called the American Rescue Plan allocates $350bn to state and local governments, and some $130bn to schools.

It would also provide $49bn for expanded COVID-19 testing and research, as well as $14bn for vaccine distribution.

The $1,400 stimulus cheques will be quickly phased out for those with higher incomes – at $75,000 for a single person and for couples making more than $150,000.

The extension of jobless benefits until September, will bring relief for millions Americans who have been unemployed for a long time and whose eligibility for benefits is currently due to expire in mid-March.

The bill also includes grants for small businesses as well as more targeted funds: $25bn for restaurants and bars; $15bn for airlines and another $8bn for airports; $30bn for transit; $1.5bn for Amtrak rail and $3bn for aerospace manufacturing.

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