House to vote on $484 billion coronavirus relief package as jobless claims mount

Washington — House lawmakers abiding by strict social distancing rules are meeting Thursday to vote on a $484 billion interim coronavirus relief package, as new unemployment figures highlight the staggering toll the pandemic has taken on the U.S. job market.

The legislation, known as the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, is the result of weeks of negotiations between congressional Democrats and the White House. The measure includes $75 billion for hospitals, $25 billion to establish a national testing regime, $60 billion in disaster aid and $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans to small businesses to help them retain workers and meet payroll. The PPP exhausted its initial $349 billion in funding last week.

The measure passed in the Senate on Tuesday, and President Trump is expected to sign the legislation once it has been approved in the House.

The vote comes as new government data shows 4.4 million people filed initial unemployment claims last week, raising the total number of people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic to about 26 million.

Roughly $60 billion in new funds going to the PPP will be specifically targeted to financial institutions serving rural, unbanked and minority-owned businesses, a key priority for Democrats. Minority-owned businesses have been particularly affected by the pandemic, which has exacerbated preexisting structural issues that make it difficult for minority business owners to gain access to capital.

A quorum of 218 lawmakers will need to be present for Thursday’s afternoon vote after several hours of debate. Members will enter the chamber to cast votes in eight groups of roughly 60 members each to limit possible exposure to the virus.

Representative Ed Perlmutter and a committee staff member listen as Chairman Jim McGovern and Representative Jamie Raskin converse, following a House Rules Committee markup session  on Capitol Hill on April 22, 2020.

TOM BRENNER / REUTERS


The vote comes as the House tries to figure out how to continue its work without endangering its members. House Democrats unveiled a resolution Wednesday which would allow members to vote by proxy, meaning that one member could vote on behalf of a colleague who is not present. But Republicans objected to the proposed rule change, arguing that the House needs to formally get back to work.

After discussions between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Democrats agreed to postpone a vote on a rule change for now, and the House is instead voting today on a resolution establishing a bipartisan Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis to oversee billions of dollars in spending under multiple relief bills.

The House and Senate are not expected to formally reconvene until May. Democrats argue that lawmakers need to immediately begin working on another phase of relief legislation which would give more assistance to state and local governments, but Republicans have questioned whether it is necessary to begin working on new legislation so quickly.

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