West Palm Beach (United States) (AFP) -
After delaying for nearly a week and under pressure from all sides, US President Donald Trump finally signed a massive $900 billion stimulus bill Sunday, in a long-sought boost for millions of Americans and businesses battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
The package 'providing coronavirus emergency response and relief' is part of a larger spending bill that, with Trump's signature, will avoid a government shutdown on Tuesday.
'I am signing this bill to restore unemployment benefits, stop evictions, provide rental assistance, add money for PPP, return our airline workers back to work, add substantially more money for vaccine distribution, and much more,' the president said in a statement from his Christmas vacation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
For days, Trump refused to put his signature on the relief package approved overwhelmingly by Congress following months of negotiation, calling it a 'disgrace.'
Two federal unemployment benefit programs approved in March as part of an initial Covid-19 relief plan expired at midnight on Saturday, cutting off an estimated 12 million Americans, according to The Century Foundation think tank.
The relief package, passed by Congress on December 21, would extend those benefits as well as others set to expire in the days ahead.
But in his statement, Trump continued to push for the $600 direct payments to US taxpayers spelled out in the bill to be more than tripled, and argued the legislation included too much excess spending on unrelated programs.
He has not said why he waited until the bill was already approved to make his views known.
President-elect Joe Biden, due to be sworn in January 20 after beating Trump in November's election, had warned of 'devastating consequences' on Saturday if the president continued his refusal.
- 'Chaos and misery' -
Earlier Sunday, before the bill was signed, some Republicans urged Trump to change course.
'I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks, but the danger is he'll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire,' Republican Senator Pat Toomey told Fox News on Sunday.
Democrats in Congress sought Thursday to approve a measure to increase the direct payments in line with what Trump wants, but Republicans blocked it.
It was seen largely as a theatrical move with little hope of passage designed to expose the rift between Republicans and the outgoing president.
Senator Bernie Sanders said earlier Sunday that 'what the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel.'
'Many millions of people are losing their extended unemployment benefits,' he said on ABC.
'They're going to be evicted from their apartments because the eviction moratorium is ending.'
Sanders said increased direct payments could be approved in the coming days.