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Coronavirus: US Senate Passes $484 Billion Aid Package

Coronavirus: US Senate Passes $484 Billion Aid Package 


The Senate passed a $484 billion relief package to replenish a depleted small business loan program and fund hospitals and coronavirus testing. The House is expected to pass it on Thursday, and President Trump is expected to sign it.

Senate passes the $484 billion relief package.
The Senate on Tuesday passed a $484 billion coronavirus relief package that would replenish a depleted loan program for distressed small businesses and provide funds for hospitals and coronavirus testing, approving yet another huge infusion of federal money to address the public health and economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.

The measure was the product of an intense round of bipartisan negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration that unfolded as the small business loan program created by the stimulus law quickly ran out of its initial $349 billion in funding. The program ran dry before many companies were able to have their applications approved, collapsing under a glut of applications from desperate businesses struggling to stay afloat.

The money is just a fraction of the amount that Congress will consider in the weeks to come, as lawmakers contemplate spending another $1 trillion or more on a sweeping government response.

The Senate passed the measure by voice vote — a necessity since most senators were not present because the chamber had been in a prolonged recess — though two Republican senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, spoke against it beforehand.

Mr. Paul, a libertarian, said he had returned to Washington “so that history will record that not everyone gave in to the massive debt Congress is creating” with the multiple rounds of coronavirus relief it had enacted over the past six weeks.

The agreement would provide $320 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers guarantees for forgivable loans to small businesses if a majority of the money is used to retain employees.

While the funding passed, it did not signal more comity between Democrats and Republicans.

“It’s unfortunate that it took our Democratic colleagues 12 days to agree to a deal that contains essentially nothing that Republicans ever opposed,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said before the vote. “I’m glad we are now poised to move ahead.”

In fact, the compromise measure included several concessions Democrats had demanded as a condition of agreeing to replenish the small-business loan program and Republicans had rejected, arguing that they were extraneous proposals that belonged in a future bill. It included a requirement that the Trump administration prepare a national coronavirus testing strategy. The administration had resisted the idea, and Republican leaders had pushed states to take charge of their own testing, wary of placing the political onus on the administration.

About a fifth of the funding for the small-business loan program, $60 billion, would be set aside for smaller lenders, in line with Democrats’ request to steer resources to businesses that typically have trouble accessing loans.

The bill would also add $60 billion for the Small Business Administration’s disaster relief fund — divided into $50 billion in loans and $10 billion in grants — and farms and other agriculture enterprises would be made eligible. There would also be $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for coronavirus testing.

“All of us want to help our small businesses,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader. “But this emergency demands we take action on many fronts”

The House is expected to pass the bill on Thursday, and President Trump has indicated he will sign it.

The federal aid has not been sufficient to keep more than 22 million Americans from filing for unemployment. And the first round of loans issued through the small business program bypassed many smaller businesses, who watched their larger competitors get help.

Small restaurants have been particularly hard hit. Now in the second month of compulsory closings, many owners of independent restaurants and bars across the country are starting to despair of getting the help they need to come back.

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