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Senate Approves $480 Billion More in Aid for Small Businesses, Hospitals, COVID-19 Testing

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

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The Senate has passed an estimated $484 billion infusion of funds for small businesses, hospitals, and COVID-19 testing as the economy continues to reel from the pandemic.

The chamber on Tuesday afternoon passed the Paycheck Protection Program Increase Act on a voice vote, sending the bill to the House for approval. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer indicated that a vote could take place as early as Thursday morning.

Democrats finally reached a deal with Republicans and the White House after days of intense negotiations.

On the Senate floor ahead of the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Democrats stymied the process, but he ultimately praised the consensus that resulted in the final package. He accused Democrats of using Americans as "political leverage" and said he was "glad we're now poised to move ahead."

His Democratic counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, said the agreement "shows that even with the partisanship here, as tough and harsh as it can be, we can come together unanimously in a time of great crisis."

On Twitter, President Donald Trump appeared to give the legislation his blessing, urging Congress to pass it and saying he would sign the bill.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who had previously tested positive for the coronavirus and was criticized for returning to the Capitol while awaiting test results, slammed the deal as excessive government spending and said quarantine measures should be lifted.

"I rise in opposition to spending $500 billion more," he said. "No amount of bailout dollars will stimulate an economy that is being strangled by quarantine. It is not a lack of money that plagues us, but a lack of commerce. This economic calamity only resolves when we begin to reopen the economy."

Earlier on Tuesday, Schumer said negotiations between himself, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin went late into the night.

Here's What's In the Bill

A large portion of the deal, $310 billion, would go toward small-business loans and a fund called the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides struggling small businesses with temporary cash flow.

Of those funds, $125 million would go "exclusively to the unbanked, to the minorities, to the rural areas, and to all of those little mom-and-pop stores that don't have a good banking connection and need the help," Schumer told CNN.

The deal comes after Trump requested an additional $250 billion for the small-business-payroll program as a supplement to the government's $2.3 trillion coronavirus economic-relief plan that passed last month. Funding for the payroll program has already been exhausted.

Another $25 billion has been allocated for enhancing testing capabilities, with $11 billion going to the states, CNN reported.

In addition to small-business loans, the deal would give $75 billion to healthcare providers. The bill defines eligible providers as "public entities, Medicare or Medicaid enrolled suppliers and providers, and such for-profit entities and not-for-profit entities … that provide diagnoses, testing, or care for individuals with possible or actual cases of COVID–19."

A Rocky Road to Passage

The $484 billion economic-relief bill comes after Democrats and Republicans struggled to agree on the safeguards around the small-business-loan program to ensure that funds reached businesses in disadvantaged communities, according to Reuters.

Pelosi said on CNN Tuesday that Democrats were pushing to establish a national testing strategy, though Trump was resistant to the measure and insisted that individual states should be in charge of their testing plans.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin discussed the broad outlines of the package during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday and said the bill would allocate more funding for testing, hospitals, and small businesses.

At a Sunday coronavirus press briefing, Trump said Democrats and Republicans were "close" to reaching a deal.

"It could happen," Trump said. "A lot of good work has been going on, and we could have an answer tomorrow. And we are going to see what exactly does take place."

Trump added that additional aid for rural hospitals would be etched into the deal.

"We are also looking at helping our hospitals and our rural hospitals who have been hurt very badly," he said. "The rural hospitals for a long time have not been treated properly. We are looking to help them and beyond. So we are looking at hospitals also as part of the package."

Trump also said the U.S. has now tested more than 4 million people for the coronavirus, completing 150,000 test a day.

Mnuchin told CNN that Trump would provide more funding for state and local governments in a future deal.

"The president has heard from the governors, and he's prepared to discuss that in the next bill," Mnuchin said.

Source: Business Insider

Category: Economic News, COVID-19, Business News, Advocacy News

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