Congress won’t be back in town until April 20, but lawmakers are already considering passing another “interim” coronavirus relief package as soon as this week. The timing depends, of course, on whether Democrats and Republicans can agree on what the bill should include.
Everyone can get behind at least one measure: Lawmakers from both parties support allocating more money to small businesses, via a new loan program called the Paycheck Protection Program.
In the CARES Act, $349 billion was set aside for PPP, which includes forgivable loans for small businesses and nonprofits that have been hurt by the effects of the coronavirus outbreak. Already, more than 220,000 applications have been processed, accounting for $66 billion in loans, since the program launched last Friday. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has called for another $250 billion for the program, in the wake of the overwhelming demand.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, too, supported a vote specifically on these funds. “I will work with Secretary Mnuchin and Leader Schumer and hope to approve further funding for the Paycheck Protection Program by unanimous consent or voice vote during the next scheduled Senate session on Thursday,” he said in a statement.
At this point, McConnell’s statement only includes support for the narrow increase in funding to PPP. Democratic leaders, meanwhile, want the latest funding boosts to be a bit more expansive.
In a proposal they released on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for an “interim” spending bill that includes $100 billion for hospitals and health systems, $150 billion for state and local governments, and more support for SNAP (also known as food stamps) along with the additional small-business funding.
“As Democrats have said since Day One, Congress must provide additional relief for small businesses and families, building on the strong down-payment made in the bipartisan CARES Act,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement.
The passage of more money this week will be heavily dependent on whether the two parties are able to sort out their differences once more.
Congress approved $2.2 trillion in relief money. It’s not nearly enough.
While Congress has already approved well over $2 trillion in relief funds to respond to the outbreak’s effects on the economy, it’s likely far from enough given how much the illness — and related social distancing measures — are hurting businesses and workers.
Take the intense demand that the small-business loan program has seen since it began last Friday.
In the past few days, PPP has processed hundreds of thousands of loans, with thousands of organizations continuing to submit applications. Because of the immense interest in the program, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has repeatedly warned that money for PPP could run out before all the businesses and nonprofits that need it are able to apply. Rubio had estimated that existing funds would likely be depleted by June 6.
Both Republicans and Democrats are backing more money to ensure that small businesses and nonprofits will be able to use the program.
Democrats, however, are interested in adding a few other items to the bill. One of their stipulations is some conditions on the small-business money. Pelosi and Schumer would like to see half of the new funds, or $125 billion, allocated to community-based financial institutions to increase access for this money to businesses that have been less likely to seek out funds from the large banks.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, minority-owned businesses and rural businesses are among those that are less likely to have relationships with larger banks. Additionally, one of the biggest issues to emerge with the PPP is that institutions like Bank of America, TD Bank, and Chase require businesses to have an existing relationship with the bank in order to even apply to the program. That limitation is shutting out many small businesses and is an issue that Democrats are trying to address by putting requirements on how these funds are distributed.
Additionally, Democrats are urging the allocation of more funds to hospitals and states as they continue to grapple with surging costs of resources that are needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Their requests, which include $100 billion for hospitals, community health centers, and health systems, are intended to help bolster the funds these organizations need for personal protective equipment and other coronavirus-related needs.
As NPR reports, hospitals are struggling to deal with the uptick in costs related to fighting the coronavirus, while they simultaneously suffer from reduced revenue as other medical procedures are tabled. This money would be in addition to $100 billion that was allocated to help hospitals in the CARES Act.
The $150 billion requested for states is also aimed at supplementing what’s already been allocated: The CARES Act had previously been criticized by state officials for including just $150 billion for states and cities — an amount many deemed insufficient for the scale of the problem.
Democrat leaders are pushing for funds that can help expand the maximum SNAP support families can receive by 15 percent as well.
Democrats argue that these adds are straightforward and necessary commitments, while at least one Republican has accused them of being obstructionist. “Senate Democrats should drop their shameful threat to block this funding immediately. Our small businesses desperately need help — now,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said in a statement.
A vote on this spending bill is complicated again by the current recess
McConnell had signaled that he’s interested in holding a vote for this spending measure via unanimous consent in the Senate or voice vote, both methods that don’t require all lawmakers to be physically present. The House, too, could try to use similar approaches.
Even if Democrats and Republicans can find common ground on a proposal, however, the bill could encounter procedural stumbling blocks, much like the CARES Act did. Since lawmakers in both chambers are working remotely from their home districts, opposition by even a single member could mean some would have to physically return to the Capitol.
For the CARES Act, for example, House leaders had planned to hold a vote via voice vote — which garnered pushback from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY). Because of Massie’s focus on getting a physical quorum, many lawmakers needed to fly back to the Capitol at the last minute in order to participate in the vote.
Massie has already tweeted his disappointment with the possibility of a voice vote or unanimous consent for the latest spending bill, indicating he might try to pull a similar maneuver this time around.
Before lawmakers even get to that point, however, Democrats and Republicans will need to figure out exactly what it is Congress will be considering.