Late on Monday night, Congress approved a $ 900 billion stimulus package that will provide financial aid to millions of families and businesses facing financial difficulties from the coronavirus pandemic. Although it is much smaller than a bill passed by lawmakers at the beginning of the pandemic, earlier this year, the measure is one of the most important laws in American history.
The product of frantic negotiations, the package was combined with a $ 1.4 trillion spending bill to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2021. In response to an economic and financial crisis In deepening public health, the bailout bill authorizes direct payments of $ 600 for those earning less than $ 75,000 and extends supplemental unemployment benefits to $ 300 for 11 weeks.
Hidden in the ginormous 5,593 pages However, the bill is a series of obscure initiatives and provisions that seem to have little to do with strengthening a fragile economy or keeping government open.
New Smithsonian Museums
The legislation authorizes the establishment of two new museums in Washington: the Museum of the History of American Women and the National Museum of the Latin American. However, such approval is only the first step in a years-long process to build the museums on the National Mall.
Despite broad support for museums, earlier this month Mike Lee, a Republican senator from Utah, blocked legislation that would have passed his establishment, arguing that the United States does not need “separate, separate but equal museums for separate identity groups. by hyphens “. .
Under the bill, the Latino museum will see visitors “learn about Latino contributions to life, art, history, and culture in the United States” while serving “as a gateway for visitors to view other Latino exhibitions, collections, and programs “at institutions across the country. The women’s museum “will recognize diverse perspectives on the history and contributions of women.”
Support for the Dalai Lama
In a shot at China, the bill reaffirms the right of the Tibetan people to reincarnate the Dalai Lama. China views the exiled spiritual leader, who continues to advocate some degree of Tibetan self-government, as a threat to its sovereignty.
The text of the legislation warns: “The interference of the Government of the People’s Republic of China or any other government in the process of recognition of a successor or reincarnation of the XIV Dalai Lama and any future Dalai Lamas would represent a clear abuse of the right to religious freedom of Tibetan Buddhists and the Tibetan people. “The legislation also directs the secretary of state to establish a US consulate in Tibet’s main city, Lhasa.
According to Reuters, the political head of the Tibetans in exile hailed the news as a “victory for the Tibetan freedom struggle.” China accused the United States of meddling.
The end of ‘surprise medical billing’
Legislators also included an end to this costly practice, which causes patients to unexpectedly receive care from providers not covered by their insurers, thus facing bills much higher than they would normally pay. Up to one in six emergency room visits or hospital stays resulted in at least one out-of-network bill in 2017, according to analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Consumers will be relieved to see that the practice is effectively prohibited by legislation limiting what patients can be billed for out-of-network services. Now doctors and hospitals will have to work with insurers to settle costs.
Although members of both parties have long denounced the practice, efforts to ban it were thwarted by lobbying by insurers and healthcare providers.
The right to reproduce Smokey Bear
The bill repeals a provision in federal law that penalizes the unauthorized use of Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl, famous pets from a U.S. Forest Service public safety campaign related to wildfires and pollution. Previously, the illegal reproduction of images of Smokey Bear was punishable by up to six months in prison.
Health Benefits for Marshall Islanders
The invoice correct a 25-year-old wording error that denied thousands of islanders access to the federal health benefits they were promised after they resettled in the US.
Legislators agreed to allow Marshall Islanders and other islanders covered by the Compact of Free Association to enroll in Medicaid, after a 1996 welfare reform changed the categories that qualify for federal aid and effectively banned them.
Hawaiian-led Democrats have fought for nearly two decades to restore Medicaid eligibility for islanders, without the support of Republicans. They argued that the US broke its commitment to provide medical coverage to the islanders who moved to the US after the military used their homeland to test nuclear bombs.
“This is a ‘bright moment’ in a time of darkness for our country,” said Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono. said after the approval of the law. “Let’s savor it.”
Any other business?
There were plenty of other surprises, including $ 2 billion for the new US space force and a tax break for corporate meal expenses, criticized as the “Lunch of three martinisBut a priority for Donald Trump. Senator Bernie Sanders, who pushed for higher direct payments, called for the inclusion of the provisions “pathetic”.
Racehorse owners too received a tax exemption, while $ 35 million was allocated for groups that “implement sexual risk avoidance education,” which the legislation defines as “voluntarily refraining from sexual activity outside of marriage.”
“This is why Congress needs time to read this package before voting on it,” New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter, responding to a report that the bill makes illegal transmission a serious crime.
“Members of Congress have not read this bill. It’s over 5,000 pages, it arrived today at 2pm, and we’re told to expect a vote in two hours. This is not governance. It’s a hostage-taking. “
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