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Schumer, Gillibrand praise passage of COVID relief package

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

An exhausted Senate narrowly approved a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Saturday as President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies notched a victory they called crucial for hoisting the country out of the pandemic and economic doldrums.

After laboring all night on a mountain of amendments — nearly all from Republicans and rejected — bleary-eyed senators approved the sprawling package on a 50-49 party-line vote. That sets up final congressional approval by the House next week so lawmakers can whisk it to Biden for his signature.

The huge measure — its total spending is nearly one-tenth the size of the entire U.S. economy — is Biden’s biggest early priority. It stands as his formula for addressing the deadly virus and a limping economy, twin crises that have afflicted the country for a year.

Both U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand hailed the passage.

“This bill will deliver more help to more people than anything the federal government has done in decades,” Schumer said. “It is broader, deeper and more comprehensive in helping working families and lifting people out of poverty than anything Congress has seen or accomplished in a very long time.

“The pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of American life. So this bill spans the gamut and provides support to every part of our country.

“For Americans who doubted that the government can help them in this time of crisis, you’ll be getting direct checks, your schools will receive assistance to re-open quickly and safely, your local businesses will get another lifeline, and the day when you receive the vaccine will be a lot sooner.

Gillibrand was “proud” the passage will assist health-care providers, workers, small businesses and families.

“I’m particularly proud that this bill includes a nearly $8 billion down payment for Health Force, my legislation to create a robust public health workforce to strengthen vaccination efforts,” she said. “My colleagues and I fought hard to support our front line workers, strengthen vaccine rollout, help our schools safely reopen, bolster small businesses, and provide relief to the millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet. While there’s more work to be done to help America fully recover, this bill is a huge step to further address this crisis and I will continue working with my colleagues to help rebuild our economy.”

Party leaders agreed to restrict eligibility for the $1,400 stimulus checks that will go to most Americans. That amount would be gradually reduced until, under the Senate bill, it reaches zero for people earning $80,000 and couples making $160,000. Those amounts were higher in the House version.

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