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US eyes $400bn virus-aid deal

Move would boost hospital spending and allow for greater testing

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On Thursday, the White House said nearly all of the $349bn had been committed and the SBA stopped backing new loans. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

On Thursday, the White House said nearly all of the $349bn had been committed and the SBA stopped backing new loans. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

AP

On Thursday, the White House said nearly all of the $349bn had been committed and the SBA stopped backing new loans. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

The Trump administration and congressional leaders are closing in on a $400bn-plus deal (€368bn) that could pass the Senate as soon as today to renew funding for a small business loan programme that recently ran out of money, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and top Democratic leaders said yesterday.

The deal would also boost spending for hospitals and testing.

Mr Mnuchin said on CNN he hoped to see the agreement pass the Senate today and the House tomorrow. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer also expressed optimism a deal was near, with Mr Schumer saying he was "very hopeful we could come to an agreement tonight or early tomorrow morning".

The deal would add around $300bn to the Paycheck Protection Programme for small businesses that was swamped by demand in the three weeks since Congress passed it as part of a $2trn coronavirus rescue bill. It also would add $60bn to a separate emergency loan programme for small businesses that also is out of money, Mr Schumer said.

The agreement also would include $75bn for hospitals and $25bn for testing, which have been major Democratic demands. Some of the money in the small business programme would be directed specifically to rural and minority businesses, according to people familiar with the plan who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe it.

"We want to make sure that it's reaching all of America's small businesses," Ms Pelosi said on ABC.

"And we also want to make sure that it's operating in a community where our police and fire, our healthcare workers, our doctors, nurses, our teachers, are being compensated for and not fired. And that's why we're asking for the additional funds in the package, as well as for hospitals so that we can do testing, testing, testing. I think we're very close to agreement."

The lack of testing has been a major pressure point throughout the pandemic, with lawmakers and governors lashing out at the federal government for its failures in that regard even as President Donald Trump has increasingly blamed governors.

Another major Democratic ask - money for cities and states - appeared left out of the deal, though talks remained fluid, and Mr Schumer said some items were still being discussed. Congressional aides cautioned that the deal was not final.

Mr Mnuchin said he'd been in contact with GOP congressional leaders and: "We're all on board with the same plan.

"I'm hopeful that we can reach an agreement that the Senate can pass this tomorrow and that the House can take it up on Tuesday, and Wednesday we'd be back up and running," Mr Mnuchin said.

A $2trn economic bailout and stimulus law passed by Congress last month created a $349bn Paycheck Protection Programme, which allowed banks to issue taxpayer-backed loans to small businesses to help them weather the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, the White House said nearly all of the $349bn had been committed and the SBA stopped backing new loans. The White House said the programme allowed 1.6 million companies to receive the loans, and most of the money must be spent on paying the wages of employees to minimise job losses during the pandemic.

More than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past four weeks.

Even with the 1.6 million loans, it appears a fraction of companies received the taxpayer assistance. There are 30 million small businesses, and many firms complained they were blocked from accessing the money. On CNN, Mr Mnuchin was asked whether Congress would need to appropriate even more money on top of the $300bn to help more companies, and he said the $300bn would be sufficient. (© The Washington Post)

Irish Independent