Congressional leaders near deal on coronavirus bill to replenish small-business program

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WASHINGTON – The White House and congressional leaders are nearing a deal to replenish a program geared to keep small businesses from shuttering and their employees from going on unemployment.

The $300 billion deal is set to offer more funds to the Paycheck Protection Program, which was launched April 3 by the Small Business Administration with an initial $349 billion for loans to small businesses. The program was halted Thursday – less than two weeks after its launch – after all of its funds were allocated to banks to go out to businesses across the country through more than 1.6 million loan applications. 

Along with funds for small businesses, the deal is tentatively set to offer $75 billion to help overwhelmed hospitals and $25 billion to increase the capacity to test for the coronavirus. 

Disagreements remain over details, including how those funds would be divided and spent. The Senate plans to bring up the package Tuesday afternoon, so negotiators can finalize the deal.

The House notified its members that the legislation could be taken up by the chamber Wednesday.

“At this hour, our Democratic colleagues are still prolonging their discussions with the administration, so the Senate regretfully will not be able to pass more funding for Americans’ paychecks today,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Monday. “It is past time to get this done for the country.”

He told reporters Monday, “Hopefully, we’ll have an agreement later today.” 

More: Stimulus program for small businesses runs out of money as Congress remains at odds over more funds

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Congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have haggled over details of the bill for days as the program ran dry, leaving businesses in limbo over whether they will receive financial relief. 

Democrats insisted that the bill should not only include funds for businesses but also additional money for hospitals and state and local governments. They pushed for protections to ensure small businesses without established relationships with banks, including those in rural areas or owned by minorities, could access more of the funds after complaints that larger businesses secured much of the money. 

President Donald Trump and Mnuchin had a call with Senate Republicans on Sunday when they went over updates on the negotiations. On the call, Republicans said  funds for state and local governments and bolstered food stamp benefits, which Democrats demanded, were not being added, according to a Senate Republican leadership aide. 

Getting the bill across the finish line could pose some difficulties.  The House and Senate plan to keep members home to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Instead, the chambers plan to pass the bill by unanimous consent, a procedure that would allow just one lawmaker to object. 

McConnell said Monday it was unclear whether the measure could pass unanimously, and he wouldn’t know “until we have a product” and final text. 

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Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky.,  signaled issues with the bill. Some liberal House Democrats also aired grievances with the details of the bill, arguing it was not enough.

“I am not here for a $5 bill, and I will not insult my community with that,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said, explaining she did not support the bill currently but was waiting for the final text. 

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Republicans accused Democrats of playing politics with the money and urged swift passage of the bill. Senate Republicans attempted this month to pass $250 billion to replenish the program, but Democrats blocked the measure and offered a counterproposal, which was blocked by Republicans. 

Mnuchin said Sunday a deal with Democrats was “very close” and Congress could approve additional funding for the program this week.

Mnuchin said Trump “is willing to consider” allocating more money to the states in future legislation, something Democrats lobbied for in this bill. Several governors warned that their resources are depleted by the coronavirus response and that they may have to soon cut essential services. 

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was optimistic a deal was close but cautioned there were “a lot of details” to work out. He said on “Fox News Sunday” that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., were happy with the way the talks are going. 

“Many of the things we have asked for on the banking side, on the testing side, on the hospital side, they’re going along with. So we feel pretty good,” Schumer said.

Schumer said the bill would set aside $60 billion in disaster loans “to make sure it goes to the rural areas, to the minority areas” and to businesses that did not have relationships with the banks distributing the loans. Mnuchin touted the disaster loan program as a way to get more money to smaller businesses, though he put the figure at $50 billion. 

“If you had a connection with a bank, it was pretty easy to get a loan. If you didn’t – from one end of the country to the other – we have been hearing that people can’t get the loans: the local restaurant, the local barbershop, the local drugstore or even startup businesses,” Schumer said of the disbursement of the first $349 billion. 

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Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/04/20/coronavirus-congress-white-house-nears-small-business-program-deal/5164613002/

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