Washington – After two weeks of acrimonious bickering, the Senate on Tuesday approved a $ 484 billion coronavirus bill that would increase funds for a small business loan program and provide hospitals nationwide with an additional $ 75 billion for them. help get through the pandemic.
The bill, however, did not contain more money for a new program called the Coronavirus Relief Fund which has distributed billions of dollars to states, most of which are struggling to pay the unexpected costs of the pandemic. Democrats and governors across the country, including Ned Lamont, asked for more money for the relief fund, but Republicans refused.
Democrats, however, won on their demand for more money for hospitals.
“Some have rejected the Democrats’ position. Why not just say yes to the [small business loan] money now and funding hospitals and states later? That’s a good question, “said Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District,” The answer is that hospitals and health centers are absolutely crushed right now, many are at risk of going insolvent, and Democrats believe that this may be the only chance to save them. In other words, there may not be a “later”.
Democrats also prevailed in their $ 25 billion demand for a new coronavirus testing program.
There was a last-minute brawl, however, over the design of the program. Democrats wanted a national approach, while Republicans wanted more flexibility for states.
“Connecticut is stepping up efforts to increase testing under Governor Lamont’s leadership,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said. “Without the leadership of the administration, there is no national strategy and still woefully inadequate testing at the national level.”
“… Hospitals and health centers are getting completely crushed right now. “
– US Representative Jim Himes, D-3rd District
A compromise was finally found. This would require plans from states and local governments on how they would spend testing funds, and would also require a strategic federal plan to provide assistance to states to increase testing and testing capacity. The bill requires the Trump administration to come up with a testing plan within 30 days.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, from D-3rd district, who chairs a House appropriations panel with jurisdiction over health care spending, said she would “closely monitor” the development of the test plan.
Representative John Larson, District D-1, said “the interim back-up plan I will be voting on this week is essential, but it is only a small step forward.”
“Our small businesses and hospitals will need more help to continue to fight this pandemic,” Larson added. “In addition, I am deeply disappointed that funding for state and local governments has been excluded from this agreement, even though their revenues and budgets have been decimated. “
The nearly half a trillion dollar bill was approved by the unanimous consent of all senators, most of whom, including Blumenthal and Senator Chris Murphy, were in their home states.
Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., Who has suffered from COVID-19, told the Senate on Tuesday that he was against spending more federal money on the pandemic. Congress has already approved around $ 2.5 trillion to fight the virus.
“Even more alarming than money is the idea that a senator can stand up and pass a law spending half a trillion dollars and have no recorded votes or debates,” said Paul. But he did not block the approval of the bill.
“I understand the difficulties of returning senators from across the country, so I did not invoke Senate rules to require a recorded vote,” said Paul.
The US House plans to vote on the package on Thursday. But unlike senators, members of the House should be required to return to Washington DC to vote. They should also try to vote on a rule change that would allow them to vote remotely for the remainder of the pandemic.
There is an urgent need to approve the bill because the paycheck protection program, funded by $ 349 billion in the latest stimulus bill, is strapped for cash.
PPP is a Small Business Administration loan program that allows businesses with fewer than 500 employees to obtain SBA-approved bank loans that would primarily cover salary costs. If companies keep their employees and meet other requirements, the loans will be canceled and paid back by taxpayers.
The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act would provide an additional $ 310 billion for the small business loan program.
Following reports that hotel and restaurant chains received loans – Ruth’s chain owner Chris Steak Houses got $ 20 million – Democrats managed to include provisions requiring the participation of ‘credit institutions serving minority or underserved areas. These include community financial development institutions and minority depository institutions that have not been sanctioned by the SBA to offer loans to small businesses.
The package was negotiated between Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Senatorial Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said he wrested from the White House a pledge that the country’s governors had been pushing for – flexibility so that states could use allotted $ 150 billion in the previous CARES law of $ 2.2 trillion to make up some of the lost revenue in their budgets. This money was initially limited to paying the direct costs of the coronavirus, such as purchasing tests and supplies and establishing temporary hospitals. Connecticut’s allocation is approximately $ 1.4 billion.
Another expense bill
The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act is only an interim measure.
As soon as it completes this bill, Congress intends to begin negotiations on another coronavirus package, which Democrats say will include more money for cities and states, and for social programs such as food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.
“Congress must fund additional relief for our states and local governments who bear the financial burden of fighting COVID-19, implement a national plan to coordinate food distribution, and increase funding for SNAP to ensure people are not hungry, extend paid sick leave and paid time off and other protections for workers, ”DeLauro said.
She also said she wanted to increase the child tax credit. “Our federal agenda must put workers first,” DeLauro said.
The country’s governors, including Lamont, say they hope the next stimulus package will contain $ 500 billion for state and local governments.