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Congress closes in on a deal for an economic relief bill

Lawmakers in Washington inched closer to an elusive deal on an economic relief bill during the pandemic, with both sides making concessions including the possibility of direct-payment checks to Americans. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Closing in on a deal.

    Lawmakers here in Washington are ever closer to elusive economic relief to those suffering from the pandemic. Both parties are making concessions, and there is a lot on the line.

    Here to unpack the latest, our Lisa Desjardins.

    So, hello, Lisa.

    You have been reporting on this for days. We have been hearing for a whole day now that they are getting closer. What do we know about what could be in this agreement?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's frustrating that we don't have the agreement yet.

    But, Judy, in high-stakes negotiations like this, silence is golden. The fact that leaders are saying so little means that there are earnest and really good negotiations happening behind the scenes. Let's look at where things stand right now. This is coming from sources to me close to negotiations.

    First of all, the direct payment checks that many Americans have said they want, those are back in this deal, looks like it could be about $600 or $700, maybe a little more. That's being negotiated now. That's for each individual, more money for children, hundreds of billions of dollars, hundreds of dollars in added money for those unemployed, hundreds of dollars per week.

    We, again, don't know the exact amount yet. That's still being negotiated, billions of dollars to help for vaccine distribution. That would help states especially, and then billions of dollars, tens of billions of dollars for schools, again, something that would indirectly help state and local governments.

    Also in this deal, tens of billions of dollars for day-to-day needs of people, things like food, rent, helping everyone from kids to the elderly meet those demands. And, also, these checks, I have to say, it's a tradeoff.

    There is a decision made not to give direct aid to state and local governments. That's something Democrats have wanted. Instead, that money is going to direct checks for Americans. And that's something that's a win for progressive Democrats, like Bernie Sanders, who I know you talked to, Judy, as well as some conservatives, like Josh Hawley, the Republican, who pushed for it.

    The question is, some think $600 per person is too little. Others think it's not enough. Right now, it's in the deal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are getting ever closer, and we are incredibly anxious to know what's in there, s, this reporting so important.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Lisa, take us now outside of Washington. What do we know about where the need is? Who is it out there who needs this — who needs this assistance the most?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to underscore this urgency.

    First, just a quick note on rent, for example. One of our producers, Geoffrey Guray, talked to the National — looked at the National Housing Conference today. They estimate some six million to 16 million Americans feel that they may not be able to make their rent.

    And let's look at some footage of the food pantry that we went to last month, another example, Judy, the need for food. Food insecurity has doubled in last year, and in some places more than tripled. So, there is real urgency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Lisa, we know that the federal government is once again about to run out of funding.

    What do we know about where the negotiations stand on that with regard to keeping the government going?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, I will just give you a quick summary of that.

    That spending deal is linked to the COVID relief bill. It does look like the spending bill is done and signed off on. We do expect it to pass. But it's a question of timing. As you say, spending runs out Friday night at midnight. And the question is, can the COVID relief bill move quickly enough to get that spending bill through at the same time?

    It's something we're going to talk a lot about. There's a lot in that spending bill. But, for now, it looks like we will not have a government shutdown. It's just a question of, when will all this pass? Tomorrow, Friday, maybe this weekend? We will watch.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Seems like — thank you, Lisa Desjardins.

    Seems like, every year, it's down to the wire. Thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

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