Trump Signs $900 Billion COVID Relief Bill After Delay

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President Donald Trump has signed a $900 billion pandemic relief package, ending days of drama over his refusal to accept the bipartisan deal that will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown.

The signing Sunday, at his private club in Florida came as he faced escalating criticism over his eleventh-hour demands for larger, $2,000 relief checks and scaled-back spending even though the bill had already passed the House and Senate by wide margins. The bill was passed with what lawmakers had thought was Trump’s blessing, and after months of negotiations with his administration.

The massive bill includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-starved transit systems and an increase in food stamp benefits.

Democrats are promising more aid to come once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, but Republicans are signaling a wait-and-see approach.

The bill includes $15 billion earmarked specifically for live music venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions, all businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

The section of the bill, based on the Save Our Stages Act, will provide financial support to live event theaters and movie theaters including some chains, though larger, publicly traded companies will likely have to look elsewhere for financial support as the pandemic continues to impact their businesses.

“Well, I think the pandemic has hit certain industries harder than most others, and the theater and live-performance venues were I think the first to close,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview last week. “They’ll be sadly the last to reopen, and so I think they have been more devastated than just about any other industry, so there was a strong desire to make sure that they had sufficient help to get through the pandemic and a realization that many of these institutions would close and close permanently if they weren’t able to get the help.”

The relief package includes Section 324: Grants For Shuttered Venue Operators, the first ever national grant program dedicated to indie music venues.

“In the middle of this pandemic, when everything is so depressing and people are so alone, music and entertainment have really gotten people through difficult times,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn), a co-sponsor of Save Our Stages, told Billboard last week. “People long for being back together and sharing a sense of community, and when coupled with the economic argument that these venues are critical to downtowns and cities, it became something everyone got behind.”

It also expands the eligibility of the Paycheck Protection Program to include local TV and radio broadcasters, as well as newspapers. The National Association of Broadcasters “applauded” the additions, with its CEO Gordon Smith saying in a statement “these provisions, in addition to the bill’s second round of PPP funding for which many stations will also be eligible, help local broadcasters maintain their operations during this difficult time and continue to provide news and information critical to local communities as vaccine distribution commences across the country.”

The bill also includes language that many entertainment groups have been pushing for for some time, but which is quite controversial. The bill would make illegal streaming for profit a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

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