Senate Democrats broker last-minute deal on unemployment benefits, clearing major hurdle for $1.9 trillion stimulus plan

Joe Manchin
In this Feb. 13, 2021, file photo Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., departs on Capitol Hill in Washington

  • Senate Democrats struck an agreement on Friday evening on unemployment benefits.
  • The new plan would provide $300 weekly jobless aid through Sept. 6, cutting a month.
  • It would also provide tax forgiveness for people making up to $150,000.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Senate Democrats brokered a deal on Friday evening on unemployment benefits, clearing a major barrier for the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan. It potentially sets up final vote on the relief legislation sometime on Saturday.

Two Democratic aides told Insider that the new plan would provide $300 in federal unemployment benefits through September 6. It would also waive tax payments for the first $10,200 in jobless aid for people making up to $150,000.

Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal discussions.

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia did not support a new Democratic plan that would provide jobless aid through the end of September and waive taxes for the first $10,200 in unemployment aid for every person. His opposition derailed Senate debate of the relief plan for nearly nine hours.

“The President has made it clear we will have enough vaccines for every American by the end of May and I am confident the economic recovery will follow,” Manchin said in a statement. “We have reached a compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with unexpected tax bill next year.”

Some experts raised concern about the federal government pulling the plug on unemployment aid as the economy slowly regains lost jobs as the pandemic subsides.

“We need jobless aid in place until labor markets are recovered,” Elizabeth Pancotti, policy director of Employ America, told Insider. “I don’t think there’s a person that thinks the jobs market will recover by Labor Day. People are picking dates out of a hat until they have enough votes for them.”

Senate Democrats appear to be another step closer to fulfilling the first major part of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. His relief bill includes $1,400 stimulus checks for most taxpayers; $300 federal unemployment benefits through August; $200 billion in funding for schools; and funding for vaccines and virus testing.

In the evenly-divided Senate, Democrats control the chamber due to the tie-breaking power of Vice President Kamala Harris. But the ideological cracks that began emerging on Friday may foreshadow other hurdles as they try to enact other parts of their agenda, including infrastructure and voting rights.

“I think this is the indication of how we’re gonna see the Senate operate for the next two years,” Jim Manley, a former Democratic senior aide, recently told Insider. “The irony of all this is this bill was going to be the easy one and everything to come is going to be a hell of a lot tougher.

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Biden says it’s an ‘easy choice’ to push Republicans aside if it means getting his $1.9 trillion stimulus package approved faster

Joe Biden walking
  • Biden strongly indicated that he is prepared to pass his $1.9 trillion stimulus package with only Democratic votes.
  • “They’re just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go,” Biden said of talks with Republicans.
  • He suggested negotiations risked delaying the passage of urgently needed federal aid.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden gave one of the strongest indications yet on Friday that he is prepared to pass his $1.9 trillion emergency spending package with only Democratic votes.

While delivering remarks at the White House, Biden said he wanted to “act fast” and emphasized his large plan was designed to address the immense challenges facing the nation.

“I’d like to be doing it with the support of Republicans. I’ve met with Republicans, there’s some really fine people want to get something done,” he said. “But they’re just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go.”

Biden continued: “I’ve told both Republicans and Democrats, that’s my preference to work together. But if I had to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation, or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis it’s an easy choice.”

The remarks appeared to reflect a new willingness from the president to embark on a partisan path to get his rescue package approved faster. Democrats kicked off efforts this week to pass the plan through budget reconciliation. It’s a legislative maneuver allowing bills to be enacted through a simple majority of 51 votes instead of the 60 generally required in the Senate.

The plan includes $1,400 stimulus checks, $400 federal unemployment benefits through September, and assistance to state and local governments among other provisions. It has generated strong opposition from Republicans who argue it is a colossal level of untargeted spending on progressive priorities.

Up until now, the White House has courted a group of 10 Republican senators to draw their votes and add a layer of bipartisanship to the relief effort. The group led by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine put forward a $618 billion measure on Monday, but Democrats rejected it as too meager. 

They said in a letter to the White House on Thursday that “we remain committed to working in a bipartisan fashion and hope that you will take into account our views as the legislative process moves forward.”

Senior administration officials have all but dismissed their plan at this stage.

“We’re not going to sit here and wait for an ongoing negotiation,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Friday news briefing. “Frankly we haven’t received an offer in return, a response offer to what the president has proposed.”

It remains unclear whether the GOP senators will attempt to continue negotiations with the White House.

Read more: Biden’s stimulus plan is heightening Wall Street’s worries that inflation will upend the stock market. We spoke to 4 experts on what the raging debate means for investors and how to take advantage of it.

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US stocks close mixed as stimulus optimism clashes with new virus strain

nyse open floor traders mask.JPG
  • US stocks closed mixed on Tuesday after Congress passed a multitrillion-dollar spending bill that includes $900 billion in new stimulus.
  • The package, which also funds the government through September 30, includes $600 direct payments, $300 in additional federal unemployment benefits, and aid for small businesses. 
  • The fresh fiscal support locked horns with concerns around a new strain of COVID-19 in the UK. The variant’s emergence prompted several European nations to enact travel restrictions on UK visitors.
  • Oil futures fell as investors viewed the new virus strain as a risk to near-term energy demand. West Texas Intermediate crude fell as much as 2.4%, to $46.60 per barrel.
  • Watch major indexes update live here.

US equities closed mixed on Tuesday as investors weighed Monday’s stimulus vote against the emergence of a new coronavirus strain in the UK.

Congress approved the measure Monday night after months of negotiations over additional fiscal support. The bill, which includes $900 billion in new stimulus, funds the government through September 30. The package also includes $600 direct payments, $300 in additional federal unemployment benefits, and funds for the Paycheck Protection Program.

Here’s where US indexes stood at the 4 p.m. ET market close on Tuesday:

Read more: BANK OF AMERICA: Buy these 16 medtech stocks with strong fundamentals that are set to soar post-pandemic

The White House has indicated President Donald Trump will sign the bill. Economists have largely backed additional fiscal support, though the slowed pace of economic recovery and rising COVID-19 cases still present sizeable risks.

“The $900 billion fiscal aid package is months late and will likely fall short of what is needed to prevent a rough winter, but it’s better than nothing,” Gregory Daco, chief US economist at Oxford Economics, said, adding the measure will “partially buffer the current economic slowdown” while vaccines are distributed.

Enthusiasm toward the new fiscal support was somewhat offset by reports of a new COVID-19 variant in the UK. Several European countries implemented travel restrictions on UK visitors to slow its spread.

Fears were somewhat allayed later in the day after public health experts said Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines are likely effective against the new strain. Still, the new restrictions and virus fears threaten to tamper down on already weakened economic activity.

Read more: Brooke de Boutray has beaten 99% of her peers over the last 5 years and runs a fund that is up 148% in 2020. She shared with us 4 stocks she’s most bullish on heading into 2021.

Economic indicators also flashed some warning signs. US consumer confidence unexpectedly fell to a four-month low this month as surging COVID-19 cases and stricter lockdown measures offset a slight improvement in Americans’ long-term outlooks, Conference Board said Tuesday. The organization’s sentiment gauge fell to 88.6 from 92.9, while economists expected a jump to 97.

The tech and real estate sectors outperformed, while communications-service and energy stocks lagged.

The Nasdaq composite index was lifted by Apple, which extended a late Monday climb following a Reuters report that the iPhone maker aims to produce electric cars by 2024. The news also boosted lidar-sensor producers, as Apple reportedly plans to partner with such firms for its vehicle systems.

Peloton soared after the company inked a deal to buy exercise-equipment company Precor for $420 million. Peloton plans to use Precor’s facilities to boost its manufacturing capacity and cut down on its order backlog.

Read more: A fund manager at JPMorgan’s $1.9 trillion asset management arm breaks down the 6 high-conviction bets he’s making to stand out from the crowd next year – and shares the 2 biggest risks on his radar

Bitcoin rose back above $23,000 after plunging the most in nearly a month on Monday. The cryptocurrency faced pressure after the US Treasury proposed rules that would require exchanges to collect information from users who transfer more than $10,000 to a crypto wallet.

Spot gold erased early gains and fell as much as 1%, to $1,858.97 per ounce, at intraday lows. The US dollar strengthened against all of its Group-of-10 peers and Treasury yields dipped.

Oil prices fell amid fears that the new COVID-19 strain will further cut into demand. West Texas Intermediate crude dropped as much as 2.4%, to $46.60 per barrel. Brent crude, oil’s international benchmark, declined 2.7%, to $49.56 per barrel, at intraday lows.

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Treasury Secretary Mnuchin expects direct stimulus checks to be released next week, says he ‘couldn’t be more pleased’ about deal

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House Democrats pass $900 billion stimulus plan with direct payments and federal unemployment benefits, clearing the way for a Senate vote

Nancy Pelosi
  • House Democrats approved the $900 billion stimulus agreement, sending it to a vote in the Senate.
  • The package contains $600 stimulus checks and $300 federal weekly unemployment benefits among other measures like small business aid and funds for vaccine distribution.
  • The $900 billion package is just under half of the spending level that Democrats wanted before the election, and they say will press for more federal aid once Biden takes office.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

House Democrats passed the long-awaited $900 billion stimulus plan, sending it to the Republican-controlled Senate for a vote on Monday evening.

The 5,593-page bill was passed overwhelmingly 359 to 53.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier on Monday morning that she supported the package, but wanted additional aid spending once President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

“I look forward to a strong bipartisan vote today on this legislation,” Pelosi said. “Respecting it for what it does, not judging it for what it does not. But recognizing that more needs to be done.”

Passage in the House sends it to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will put it on the floor for a vote. It’s expected to pass. Congressional leaders are operating on a swift timetable, seeking to merge the relief package with a $1.4 trillion government funding bill and pass them before midnight Monday, the new deadline for federal funding to lapse.

Lawmakers had little time to review the massive piece of legislation once it was introduced early Monday afternoon.

The rescue package would direct hundreds of billions of dollars into many sectors of the economy. Unemployed Americans will see an extra $300 from the federal government tacked onto their unemployment checks until mid-March. It also includes $600 stimulus checks will be sent to millions of Americans. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said many Americans will start receiving those payments early next week.

Read more: $600 checks for most people, help for entertainment venues, airlines and public transit. Here’s what else is in the $900 billion stimulus the House just passed.

The package also contains $284 billion in small business aid and $45 billion in federal funds for transportation. Meanwhile, the government funding bill would cover federal agencies through September 2021, and it also includes a bevy of tax breaks for businesses next year.

The legislation, though, is a significant step down from the amount of spending Democrats once sought. The chamber approved a sweeping $3.4 trillion stimulus package in May called the HEROES Act, but Republicans dismissed it outright.

Then, in October, House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion relief bill to kickstart stalled negotiations with Republicans. It ultimately went nowhere. But Pelosi drew criticism from some Democrats for rejecting the Trump administration’s $1.8 trillion stimulus offer. Her defenders argue Senate Republicans would never have supported a plan with a large price tag.

After Biden’s election, Democrats embraced a $908 billion relief plan unveiled by a bipartisan group of moderate senators. It was later whittled down to a $748 billion piece of legislation, which Democrats increased to its current level of $900 billion by backing the addition of stimulus payments.

But they set aside one of their key priorities in the final rescue legislation, aid to states and municipalities struggling with large budget shortfalls. In exchange, Republicans dropped their demand for a liability shield to insulate businesses from virus-related lawsuits. Both parties will likely seek to address both of those measures early next year.

Read more: JPMorgan says stocks are primed for sustained gains in a way they haven’t been in years – and identifies 43 names to buy for above-average earnings growth in 2021

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This map shows how much the $600 stimulus check is worth in every state

New York City
$600 at the national average price level translates into just $516 in New York State, after adjusting for cost-of-living.

Over the weekend, Congress finally came to an agreement on a new stimulus package intended to fight the ongoing economic turmoil stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. One of the major features of the bill, which is expected to see a vote late Monday, is a $600 direct payment to most adults in the US, along with an extra $600 per child to families.

Of course, $600 will go a lot further in some parts of the country than others.

The US Bureau of Economic Analysis recently released its latest cost-of-living estimates across US as of 2019. These “regional price parities” show how expensive goods and services are in different states, relative to the national average.

We can use the regional price parities to get an idea of how much $600 is actually worth to consumers in each state. The BEA releases price parities every year, indexed to a national average of 100, with values for a state below 100 indicating a lower cost of living than the national average and values higher than 100 meaning more expensive than average goods and services.

In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, New York State had a regional price parity of 116.3, meaning that prices in the state tended to be about 16.3% higher than average. Given that, $600 at the national average price level would be worth just $516 in the Empire State.

Meanwhile, Arkansas had a regional price parity of 84.7, meaning that prices in that state were about 15.3% lower than the national average. So, a $600 stimulus check at the national average price would be worth $708 in Arkansas after this cost-of-living adjustment.

Following the same logic, this map shows how far a $600 stimulus check would go in each state. Hover over a state to see the regional-price-parity-adjusted value of $600 in that state:

 

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Congressional leaders strike a long-awaited stimulus deal: $600 checks and $300 federal weekly unemployment benefits for Americans

Pelosi McConnell Schumer
From left to right: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

  • Top congressional leaders clinched a stimulus deal after months of on-again, off-again negotiations.
  • The agreement is expected to contain $600 stimulus checks and $300 federal weekly unemployment benefits.
  • Votes on the package are expected to take place on Monday.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Congressional leaders on Sunday struck a long-awaited deal on a $900 billion federal rescue package, clearing final policy hurdles and paving the way for passage amid an especially dark stretch of the pandemic.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the announcement from the Senate floor on Sunday afternoon.

“The four leaders of the Senate and House finalized an agreement,” the Kentucky Republican said, adding the plan would total $900 billion. “It will be another major rescue package for the American people.”

Negotiations kicked off earlier this week in a series of back-to-back meetings between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, McConnell, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The group signaled it was making steady progress in the last few days.

Pelosi and Schumer released a statement announcing the breakthrough as well, saying “we are going to crush the virus and put money in the pockets of the American people.”

Congressional Democratic leaders announced the package contains:

  • $600 stimulus checks for adults, plus an extra $600 per child.
  • $300 weekly federal unemployment insurance.
  • $284 billion in extra small business aid through the Paycheck Protection Program.
  • $25 billion in emergency rental assistance along with an extension of the eviction moratorium.

Congressional leaders are setting up a swift timetable. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, said the chamber would pass a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open an extra day. They’re also attempting to pass a $1.4 trillion spending bill to fund the government into next year.

It could lead to a rapid-fire series of votes in the House and Senate on Monday, only hours before the deadline for government funding expires at midnight. Lawmakers will have a very slim margin for error as they try to pass legislation and avert a government shutdown.

Senior Republicans and Democrats want to merge both pieces of legislation, meaning that lawmakers could have only hours to review a broad tax-and-spending package costing over $2 trillion. 

The agreement comes as the economic recovery is showing signs of slowing down with no new federal aid in nine months. States are enacting new restrictions to suppress the rapid spread of the virus. There’s been a steady uptick in the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits for the past three weeks, and job growth is in danger of fizzling out. The economy has regained just over half of the 22 million jobs lost in March and April.

But virus cases and deaths are reaching new highs. The pandemic has continued devastating the lives of Americans, with many small businesses are on the brink of financial ruin. A new study from the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame indicated 7.8 million people had fallen into poverty since late July.

Half of all small businesses in the country may have to close for good in the next year, according to a survey from the US Chamber of Commerce.

Congress is running up against the expiration of multiple federal benefit programs set up in the spring. Nearly 14 million people are threatened with the loss of all their unemployment assistance if some federal measures are not renewed, per Labor Department data.

A moratorium on evictions also expires December 31, putting millions of Americans at risk of losing their homes.

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Coronavirus relief talks are hanging by a thread at a perilous moment for millions of Americans

US flag hanging by a thread
An American flag hangs upside down outside Union Station in Washington on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020

  • Relief talks are now hanging by a thread, with a path forward increasingly unclear.
  • Republicans and Democrats are struggling to reconcile longstanding differences on the scope of an aid package.
  • State aid and a liability shield for businesses to guard them from virus-related lawsuits are two of the main roadblocks.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Relief talks on an economic aid package in Congress kicked off with a flurry of activity last week after months of gridlock. A bipartisan $908 billion proposal drew Democratic support from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – a big decrease from their past demands for at least $2.2 trillion in spending. 

Yet many Republicans have not budged from their calls for a slimmer aid package that prioritizes assistance to small businesses, schools and for vaccine distribution. Now, it is unclear where a compromise takes shape with only nine days left until the end of the congressional session.

The negotiations appeared to be hanging by a thread on Wednesday as lawmakers from both parties struggled to settle longstanding differences and finalize a rescue package. A bipartisan group of moderate senators released a summary of their $908 billion proposal earlier in the day.

The six-page summary was sparsely detailed on two fiercely contested issues: aid to state and local governments and a liability shield to guard businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. It highlighted the inability of lawmakers to bridge longstanding differences as the clock runs out this month on numerous federal aid programs assisting millions of struggling Americans.

There was no guarantee an economic assistance bill would get a floor vote either, since Pelosi and Schumer only called it “the starting point” for negotiations. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has plainly dismissed it so far. 

McConnell on Tuesday offered to set aside GOP demands to include a liability shield in exchange for Democrats dropping aid to state and local governments. Democrats opposed it, and Schumer accused McConnell of trying to “sabotage” the talks.

Meanwhile, Congressional leaders are aiming to attach a relief package to a broader spending bill to fund the government into next year, known as an “omnibus.”

“They’ve come up with some ideas and I think there are many things that they’re talking about could be put in the omnibus, but the fact is we’re not going to have a standalone COVID-19 bill,” Sen. John Cornyn, a senior Republican, told reporters on Wednesday. “It will be part of the omnibus if it’s there at all.”

The bipartisan group of senators, which includes Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, also face growing calls from both parties to include another round of $1,200 checks in the next stimulus.

The turmoil of the negotiations was amplified when the Trump administration jumped in with its own $916 billion stimulus offer on Tuesday evening, its first engagement on economic aid since October. The unexpected move threatened to blow up the fragile relief talks since the White House plan slashed the proposed amount for unemployment insurance from $180 billion to $40 billion.

Democrats condemned it. Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement the bipartisan talks were “the best hope for a bipartisan solution.”

The tense relief negotiations are taking place against the backdrop of an ailing US economy and looming financial calamity for many individuals. An eviction moratorium is set to lapse on December 31, and up to 40 million people are at risk of losing their homes in the coming months.

A note from Moody’s Analytics indicates 12 million Americans will owe nearly $5,850 in back rent if the moratorium isn’t extended.

Nearly 12 million Americans also face losing their unemployment aid if Congress doesn’t renew Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for gig workers or another federal program extending state benefits for people who already depleted them.

Elizabeth Pancotti, a policy advisor for Employ America, told Business Insider it was likely too late for Congress to prevent the loss of unemployment benefits for some jobless people this month. She warned it takes several weeks to recalibrate antiquated unemployment systems to provide new federal benefits.

“We needed to do this before Thanksgiving,” she said.

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White House economic advisor suggests there’s no rush to pass a stimulus as more than 10 million people remain unemployed

Joseph LaVorgna
Joseph LaVorgna, Chief Economist of the National Economic Council.

  • An economic advisor at the National Economic Council on Friday signaled there’s no rush to release a second coronavirus stimulus package.
  • Joseph LaVorgna, chief economist at the National Economic Council, said he doesn’t “believe the recovery at the moment is in jeopardy,” despite a disappointing Friday jobs report that said 10.7 million Americans were unemployed in November.
  • Congress is considering a $908 billion stimulus proposal after months of negotiations. This revised proposal does not include a $1,200 direct payment.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Joseph LaVorgna, chief economist at the National Economic Council, signaled the White House sees no rush to release a coronavirus stimulus package as Friday’s jobs report said more than 10 million Americans remain unemployed. 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics said on Friday that the country added 245,000 jobs in November, a figure far lower than the projected 460,000 additions and a sign that economic recovery has stagnated.

LaVorgna, in an interview with Yahoo! Finance, said these numbers don’t indicate that there’s an urgency for a second stimulus package.  

“The White House has, as you know, wanted to do an assisted plan for those people hurting for some time. And that’s why the president took a variety of executive order actions this past summer,” LaVorgna said.

“Certainly people need assistance. While the unemployment rate certainly has surprised many people to the downside, we’d like to it to get to where it was pre-pandemic when it was at a 50-year low,” he added. “So there are negotiations going on. We don’t believe the recovery at the moment is in jeopardy.”

The pandemic has roiled markets and forced millions into unemployment as local governments shut down businesses nationwide to curb the spread of the virus. 

The Labor Department clocked 10.7 million unemployed people in November. About 14.8 million Americans said the pandemic was the reason they didn’t work last month, according to the Labor Department report.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on LaVorgna’s remarks.

LaVorgna’s remarks contradict what Fed Chair Jay Powell said about the need for a stimulus in October. Powell warned that the economy might falter if another stimulus package doesn’t make it through Congress. 

“Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses,” Powell said in a speech. Powell has consistently urged Congress to pass a stimulus package to help the economy recover from the devastation brought on by the coronavirus.

More recently, other lawmakers took Friday’s jobs report as a sign for Congress to expedite the stimulus negotiations, Business Insider’s Ben Winck and Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported

The report “shows the need for strong, urgent emergency relief is more important than ever,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “Senate Republicans are increasingly understanding this urgency, and [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] should hear their pleas as well as those of the millions of struggling American families.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said the disappointing jobs report “further necessitates our taking action to crush the virus, to open up the economy and to open up our schools.” 

Earlier this week, Congress took its biggest step toward a deal in months. Congressional Democrats said they were in favor of a $908 billion stimulus proposal. The revised offer is a considerably modest figure compared to the multitrillion-dollar package House Democrats originally pushed. There is no $1,200 direct payment included in this stimulus proposal. 

Senate Republicans, including Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley, indicated they are supportive of the $908 billion proposal. 

And as Business Insider’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported, President-elect Joe Biden said on Friday that the latest $908 billion stimulus package “would be better” if it included a new wave of direct payments for Americans.

“I think it would be better if it had the $1,200. I understand that may still be in play,” Biden said.

He added: “The whole purpose of this is we’ve got to make sure people aren’t thrown out of their apartments, lose their homes, are able to have unemployment insurance they can continue to feed their families on as we grow back the economy.”

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