Trump signs COVID relief and spending package into law

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US President Donald Trump has belatedly signed into law a coronavirus relief and spending package bill, averting a partial government shutdown.

Mr Trump had previously refused to sign the bill, criticising “wasteful spending” and calling for higher payouts to people hit by the pandemic.

The delay meant that millions temporarily lost unemployment benefits.

The relief package worth $900bn (£665bn) was approved by Congress after months of negotiation.

It is part of a $2.3tn spending package that includes $1.4tn for normal federal government spending.

Republican and Democratic Party lawmakers had been pleading with the president to sign it before a budget deadline of midnight on Monday. If he had not, some government agencies would have had to close, unless legislators could pass a stopgap bill.

About 14 million Americans faced a lapse in unemployment benefit payments and new stimulus cheques. Unemployment benefits will now be restored.

Why did Trump change his mind?

After the coronavirus aid relief bill overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives and Senate last Monday, Mr Trump issued an implied veto threat, describing the package as a “disgrace” and full of “wasteful” items.

The bill includes a payment of $600 to Americans earning less than $75,000 a year. Mr Trump said he wanted Americans to receive $2,000 – but Republicans in Congress refused to agree to the change.

Mr Trump also baulked at the annual aid money for other countries in the federal budget, arguing that those funds should instead go to struggling Americans.

A Social Worker with the Reading School District, Pennsylvania, helps to pack up meals to be distributed on December 22, 2020
The economic effect of the pandemic has left millions of Americans reliant on food aid and other assistance

His demand to send the measure back to Capitol Hill stunned lawmakers since he had largely stayed out of the negotiations.

His top economic adviser, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, had proposed the $600 payments early this month, and many questioned why the president had waited so long to object.

It was not immediately clear why Mr Trump – who is in Florida – finally decided to sign the bill into law on Sunday.

He said he was signing the bill with “a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed”.

He leaves office on 20 January after losing November’s election to Mr Biden, although he has refused to admit defeat.

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