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The House of Representatives will not return to the Capitol until at least May 15, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Monday, depending on whether a Democratic-backed aid package to respond to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is ready for a vote.
"Members are further advised that pending introduction of legislation, it is possible that the House may meet this week, no earlier than Friday, May 15, 2020," Hoyer said.
House members will be given 72-hours' notice before they're required to return to Washington, D.C., Hoyer said.
The House had initially planned to return Monday, May 4 — the same day the Senate reconvened — but scrapped that decision, citing the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the Washington metro area. The Capitol does not have testing for members, aides, institutional staff, custodians and maintenance workers or members of the media.
Stay-at-home orders are in place in the nation's capital until at least May 15. As of Monday, Washington had 6,389 reported cases of coronavirus and 328 deaths.
"We will not come back next week, but we hope to come back very soon to consider the CARES 2 legislation," Hoyer said at the end of April, referring to the next stimulus package that's currently in the works.
Already, the federal government has passed four massive relief bills totaling nearly $3 trillion, including the $2.2 trillion CARES Act — the largest in history — to blunt the economic pain from the virus outbreak. That package included one-time payments of $1,200 to Americans earning less than $99,000; expanded unemployment benefits by $600 per week for up to four months; and established the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program.
At the heart of the House Democrats' pending legislation is nearly $1 trillion for states and local governments to cope with lost tax revenue from the crisis, according to The Wall Street Journal. Democrats also back additional direct relief to households.
“We must put more money in the pockets of the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to Democratic colleagues on Sunday night. “Direct payments, unemployment insurance, rental and mortgage help and student-loan assistance are essential to relieve the fear that many families are facing.”
House lawmakers' decision to delay their return comes amid a bleak backdrop: More than 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the two months since the virus forced an unprecedented shutdown of the nation's economy.
And last week, the Labor Department said that the jobless rate in April hit 14.7 percent — the highest since the Great Depression. The grim figure does not include the 7 million jobs lost in the final two weeks of the month.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that means the true unemployment rate could be around 25 percent, matching the worst jobless rate seen during the Depression.
But Mnuchin said the Trump administration is in no rush to pass another aid package.
"What the president and I are now saying is we spent a lot of money, a lot of this money is not even into the economy yet," he said. "Let's take the next few weeks — I'm having discussions with both the Republicans and the Democrats to understand these issues. The president and I are having conversations with outside people."