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Trump signs $484 billion measure to aid employers, hospitals

President Donald Trump participates in a signing ceremony for H.R. 266, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, with members of his administration and Republican lawmakers in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on April 24, 2020. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/POOL/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump signed a $484 billion bill Friday to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 Americans and devastated broad swaths of the economy.

The bill is the latest effort by the federal government to help keep afloat businesses that have had to close or dramatically alter their operations as states try to slow the spread of the virus. Over the past five weeks, roughly 26 million people have filed for jobless aid, or about 1 in 6 U.S. workers.

Trump thanked Congress for “answering
my call” to provide the critical assistance and said it was “a
tremendous victory.” But easy passage of this aid installment belies a
potentially bumpier path ahead for future legislation to address the

Trump said most of the funding in the bill would flow to
small business through the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides
money to small businesses to keep workers on their payroll.

“Great for small businesses, great for the workers,” Trump said.

The measure passed Congress almost unanimously
Thursday as lawmakers gathered in Washington as a group for the first
time since March 27. They followed stricter social distancing rules
while seeking to prove they can do their work despite the COVID-19

Lawmakers’ face masks and bandannas added a somber tone to
their effort to aid a nation staggered by the health crisis and
devastating economic costs of the pandemic.

“Millions of people
out of work,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “This is really a
very, very, very sad day. We come to the floor with nearly 50,000
deaths, a huge number of people impacted, and the uncertainty of it

Anchoring the bill is the Trump administration’s $250
billion request to replenish a fund to help small- and medium-size
businesses with payroll, rent and other expenses. This program provides
forgivable loans so businesses can continue paying workers while forced
to stay closed for social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

legislation contains $100 billion demanded by Democrats for hospitals
and a nationwide testing program, along with $60 billion for small banks
and an alternative network of community development banks that focus on
development in urban neighborhoods and rural areas ignored by many
lenders. There’s also $60 billion for small-business loans and grants
delivered through the Small Business Administration’s existing disaster
aid program.

Passage of more coronavirus relief is likely in the
weeks ahead. Supporters are already warning that the business-backed
Paycheck Protection Program will exhaust the new $250 billion almost
immediately. Launched just weeks ago, the program quickly reached its
lending limit after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. That left
thousands of small businesses in limbo as they sought help.

and allies said the next measure will distribute more relief to
individuals, extend more generous jobless benefits into the fall,
provide another round of direct payments to most people and help those
who are laid off afford health insurance through COBRA.

tried to win another round of funding for state and local governments in
Thursday’s bill but were rebuffed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell, R-Ky., who says he’s going to try pump the brakes on runaway
deficit spending. McConnell says he doesn’t want to bail out
Democratic-governed states for fiscal problems that predated the
pandemic, but there’s plenty of demand for state fiscal relief among
Republicans, too.

After the Senate passed the bill Tuesday,
McConnell said Republicans would entertain no more coronavirus rescue
legislation until the Senate returns to Washington in May. He promised
rank-and-file Republicans greater say in the future legislation, rather
than leaving it in the hands of bipartisan leaders.

attacked McConnell for at first opposing adding any money to his
original $250 billion package and saying cash-strapped states should be
allowed to declare bankruptcy, a move that they currently cannot do and
that would threaten a broad range of state services. McConnell’s
comments provoked an outcry — including from GOP governors — and he
later tempered his remarks.

The four coronavirus relief bills approved so far by Congress would deliver at least $2.4 trillion for business relief, testing and treatment, and direct payments to individuals and the unemployed, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The deficit is virtually certain to breach $3 trillion this year.

Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.