The US House of Representatives has voted to increase Covid-19 relief cheques in the country to 2,000 dollars (£1,476), meeting President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger payments and sending the bill to the Republican-controlled Senate, where the outcome is uncertain.
Democrats led passage of the motion, by 275-134, their majority favouring additional assistance. They had earlier settled for smaller 600 dollar (£443) payments in a compromise with Republicans over the big year-end relief bill Mr Trump reluctantly signed into law.
The vote divides Republicans who mostly resist more spending, although many House Republicans joined in support, wary of opposing the president’s wishes.
Senators are set to return to session on Tuesday to consider the measure, with stiff resistance expected.
Before the vote, House speaker Nancy Pelosi had declared Republicans had the choice to either vote for the legislation or vote to deny the American people the assistance she said they need during the pandemic.
The House approval of larger aid cheques is the latest development in a saga which included several days of drama through Christmas over Mr Trump’s initial refusal to accept the sweeping bipartisan Covid relief bill negotiated by his own administration. It remains unclear whether Mr Trump’s hesitation will have accomplished anything.
The package the president finally signed into law late on Sunday in Florida, where he is spending the holidays, includes two parts: 900 billion dollars (£664 billion) in Covid aid and 1.4 trillion dollars (£1.03 trillion) to fund government agencies.
It will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown that otherwise would have started on Tuesday amid the public health crisis.
Aside from the direct cheques to most Americans, the Covid portion of the bill also extends eviction protections, adding a new rental assistance fund.
It also offers billions of dollars for vaccine purchases and distribution, for virus contact tracing, public health departments, schools, universities, farmers, food pantry programmes and other institutions and groups facing hardship in the pandemic.
Americans earning up to 75,000 dollars (£55,725) will qualify for the direct payments, which are phased out at higher income levels, and there is an additional payment per dependent child.
The government funding portion of the bill keeps federal agencies nationwide running without dramatic changes until September 30.
Together with votes on Monday and Tuesday to over-ride Mr Trump’s veto of a sweeping defence bill, the attempt to send much higher pandemic-era cheques to people is perhaps the last stand-off of the president’s final days in office as he imposes fresh demands and disputes the results of the presidential election.
The new Congress is set to be sworn in on Sunday.