Coronavirus: US Senate snag holds up $2tr disaster aid bill

A last-minute row is delaying a vote in Congress on a $2tn (£1.7tn) coronavirus disaster aid bill that is the largest economic stimulus in US history.

Republican and Democratic senators have been arguing over jobless benefits in the titanic spending legislation.

The plan includes direct payments of $1,200 to most American adults and aid to help small businesses pay workers.

US coronavirus deaths are approaching the 1,000 mark and there have been nearly 70,000 confirmed infections.

More than 21,000 people with coronavirus have died across the world since it emerged in China’s Wuhan province in December, while the number of infections is racing towards half a million.

Southern Europe is now the centre of the pandemic, with Italy and Spain recording hundreds of new deaths every day.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, said on Wednesday he would sign the fast-tracked bill as soon as it reached his desk.

But the plan hit a speed bump as Republican senators Tim Scott, Rick Scott, Ben Sasse and Lindsey Graham said its major expansion of jobless benefits provided “a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work”.

They said they would oppose the bill unless it was fixed to ensure workers could not have a higher income while unemployed than in a job.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he would oppose the bill unless the Republicans dropped their objections.

Media captionJulie Davis, a full-time ride-share driver in Seattle, chronicles the struggle she is facing

He also demanded tougher conditions on the legislation’s “corporate welfare”.

The bill does have cross-party support, but it must still be voted through the Senate and House of Representatives before the president signs it into law.

Despite the eleventh-hour dispute, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said at the White House on Wednesday: “Our expectation is this bill passes tonight and gets to the House tomorrow.” BBC

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