House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement that the Trump administration’s request for $250 billion in additional emergency relief for small businesses must include hundreds of billions of dollars for hospitals, state, and local governments, and food assistance.
“The heartbreaking acceleration of the coronavirus crisis demands bold, urgent, and ongoing action from Congress to protect Americans’ lives and livelihoods,” the two lawmakers said in a release.
Besides doubling the amount requested on Tuesday by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the pair said they see the additional emergency funds as an “interim” package, and look forward to a CARES 2 Act that “must provide transformational relief as the American people weather this assault on their lives and livelihoods.”
Pelosi and Schumer said they want the interim bill to include $100 billion for hospitals, community health centers, and health systems, $150 billion for state and local governments, and a 15 percent increase to the maximum SNAP benefit.
The SNAP program provides benefits by way of an Electronic Benefits Transfer card that works like a debit card to buy eligible food in authorized retail food stores. According to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis figures, in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, the program cost around $57 billion.
Of the $250 billion in assistance to small businesses, Pelosi and Schumer want $125 billion to be channeled through “community-based financial institutions” and called for improvement of the distribution process of the funds “to ensure all eligible small businesses can access this critical funding and are not turned away by banks.”
Banks and other commercial lenders are points of contact for small firms seeking relief loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, which is the portion of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that offers relief to small businesses. The program got off to a rocky start on April 3, as many small business owners ran into red tape and technical roadblocks.
It appears that bottlenecks some businesses have reported in accessing these funds were the target of Pelosi and Schumer’s comments on improvements to funds distribution.
The duo then teased a follow-up relief bill.
“After we pass this interim emergency legislation, Congress will move to pass a CARES 2 Act that will extend and expand the bipartisan CARES Act to meet the needs of the American people,” Pelosi and Schumer said.
The CARES Act became law on March 27. It earmarked nearly $350 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which gives businesses low-interest loans of about 2.5 times their average monthly payroll. The loans will be fully or partially forgiven if businesses show that the money was used to retain or rehire employees and pay some overhead expenses through June 30.
Mnuchin said Tuesday he was directed by President Donald Trump to call on congressional leaders to boost the program with an additional $250 billion in relief funding to help small businesses cope with the pandemic.
Mnuchin’s statement came after McConnell said he too would be seeking additional funds for small businesses.
“Jobs are literally being saved as we speak,” McConnell said in a statement Tuesday, referring to the surge in takeup of the $349 billion available to small businesses as part of the program.
“In just a few days, this program has become overwhelmingly popular,” he said. “Thanks to the hard work of small businesses and lenders, billions of dollars have already landed and tens of billions more are already in the pipeline.”
Businesses have been hit hard by forced shutdowns and dropoff in demand as stay-at-home orders across the country disrupt behavior and consumption patterns. Nearly 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past two weeks, which McConnell called “a record-shattering tragedy.”
“Congress needs to quickly provide more funding or this crucial program will run dry. That cannot happen,” McConnell said, calling for lawmakers to “act with speed and total focus to provide more money for this uncontroversial bipartisan program.”
But while McConnell called for quick action, he cautioned against padding new legislation with pet spending projects.
“As the administration works to implement this historic legislation and push money out the door, Senate Republicans believe any potential further action will need to be tailored to the actual needs of our nation, not plucked off preexisting partisan wish lists,” he said.
Pelosi said in March that free testing for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, could be in the next bill that Congress takes up, in addition to treatment for those who test positive for COVID-19, the disease the virus causes.
“There are so many things we didn’t get in any of these bills yet in a way that we need to,” she told reporters.