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Congress passes relief bill, impacting millions of Americans

Members of the U.S. Congress are mostly home for the holidays after approving aid for an economy battered by the pandemic. The mega-deal includes economic relief and a catch-all spending bill to fund the government for the rest of the year, and comes as California is hit hard by the coronavirus. The legislation now awaits President Trump's signature. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Members of the United States Congress are mostly home for the holidays tonight, after approving aid for an economy battered by the pandemic.

    The COVID relief headlines a bill that runs nearly 5,600 pages, the longest ever.

    William Brangham begins our coverage.

  • Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.:

    The motion to concur is agreed to.

  • William Brangham:

    Final approval in the Senate came just before midnight. This mega-deal includes economic relief and a catch-all spending bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

    In Wilmington, Delaware today, president-elect Biden hailed the outcome.

  • President-Elect Joseph Biden:

    The Congress did its job this week. And I can and I must ask them to do it again next year. But even with the changes in approach I'm going to put in place in late January, people are still going to be getting sick and dying from COVID.

  • William Brangham:

    The bill now awaits President Trump's signature. The COVID-relief measure is expected to impact millions of Americans.

    It includes direct payments of $600 each for those earning less than $75,000 a year, supplemental benefits of $300 more each week for 11 weeks for the unemployed — that's over and above state benefits — $25 billion in rental assistance, an extension of the CDC's moratorium on evictions, and $248 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program to help hard-hit small businesses.

    It leaves out any aid for state and local governments, as Democrats wanted, and liability protection for businesses, as Republicans wanted.

    Meanwhile, as millions of Americans await the stimulus checks, some are waiting for their COVID vaccinations. Elderly residents at a retirement community in Sumter County, Florida, received theirs today. Governor Ron DeSantis vowed to go all out in a state with a large population of seniors:

  • Governor Ron DeSantis, Fla.:

    As we get into the general community, vaccines are going to be targeted where the risk is the greatest. And that is in our elderly population.

  • William Brangham:

    Elsewhere, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, six front-line workers received their vaccinations today, along with Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

  • Alex Azar:

    I am just so grateful to NIH and Moderna and all the participants in Operation Warp Speed for bringing us to this point where now we can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

  • William Brangham:

    NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins got his shot as well, as did Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    I want to encourage everyone who has the opportunity to get vaccinated, so that we can have a veil of protection over this country that would end this pandemic.

  • William Brangham:

    That protection cannot come soon enough, especially in California, where the number of serious infections is overwhelming hospitals and intensive care beds are at zero capacity.

  • Brad Spellberg:

    We're getting crushed. I'm not going to sugarcoat this. We are getting crushed. For most of the days of the last week, we have had zero ICU beds open in the morning, and we have had to scramble: Can we move this patient here, can we move that patient there?

  • William Brangham:

    Los Angeles county currently leads the country in both COVID infections and deaths, with more than 634,000 cases and 8,900 deaths.

    The Los Angeles Times reports that nearly 2900 Californians have died from COVID-19 in just the past two weeks.

    Dr. Christina Ghaly is director for the L.A. County Department of Health Services.

  • Christina Ghaly:

    When you have one in every 64 people who might be infected out there, you start to see how you can very quickly lead to massive escalations in the number of cases.

    Hospitals do more than care for COVID patients. They just don't have the staffing and the resources that are available to be able to care for all of the patients that need that acute level of care. And that puts everyone's lives at risk.

  • William Brangham:

    Dr. Ghaly also asked people to rethink their holiday plans.

  • Christina Ghaly:

    Just stay at home. I know that that's not what anyone wants for the holiday. It's not what I would want for the holiday either. But we need to get through this. And we're only going to get through this if everyone can come together and do their part.

  • William Brangham:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

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