The White House and congressional leaders reached a $484 billion deal to help small businesses, hospitals and coronavirus testing.
WASHINGTON – The House approved a nearly half-trillion-dollar emergency bill Thursday that provides more funds for struggling hospitals and will rescue a small business loan program that was quickly depleted by companies impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure, which passed 388-5 with one lawmaker voting present, will now head to President Donald Trump for his signature. The president has signaled he was ready to approve the bill.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined four Republicans — Reps. Thomas Massie, Jody Hice, Ken Buck and Andy Biggs — in voting against the measure. Independent Rep. Justin Amash voted present.
The $484 billion measure offers more funds for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was halted last week after dispersing all of its initial $349 billion.
The bill provides $320 billion to revive the program, which offers loans to small businesses. Those loans can be forgiven by the government if at least 75% of the money goes to keeping employees on the payroll, basically amounting to grants for businesses.
Of the small business funds, $60 billion will be set aside for community-based lenders, smaller banks and credit unions to assist smaller businesses that don’t have established relationships with big banks and had a harder time accessing the funds in the first round of loans. The measure also bolsters the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan and grant programs, which also dried up.
The legislation includes $75 billion to help overwhelmed hospitals and $25 billion for a new coronavirus testing program, two provisions Democrats pushed for in negotiations. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the testing funds was one of the last pieces agreed to and require the administration to produce a national plan on how it will increase testing across the country.
House leaders applauded the near-unanimous vote, with Democrats noting the additional provisions they negotiated into the bill. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Democrats worked to improve the initial bill because it was “shortchanging hospitals, shortchanging testing.” He added that the measure still “shortchanges our state and local governments, and so we need another bill to try to get there.”
Republicans also praised the passing of the measure but blamed Democrats for the delay in getting the funds to businesses.
“I applaud the House for finally answering President Trump’s call to pass this relief package,” House Republican Whip Steve Scalise said. “While this relief package is critical, it should have passed weeks ago, yet was held up by some who tried to use it as ‘leverage’ to add unrelated items. The livelihood of millions of Americans and small businesses who are struggling during this pandemic should never be used as leverage.”
Biggs, one of the five lawmakers to vote against the measure, said he opposed the bill due to unspecific terms that he worried could allow state and local governments to spy on Americans through contact tracing of the disease. He argued that instead of passing more funds, “the best cure for the nation is to open up America now.”
Small business owners share their difficult and confusing journeys in applying for the Paycheck Protection Program loan.
The House tweaked its procedures for Thursday’s vote to meet social distancing guidelines. Members voted in alphabetical order and were allowed on the House floor only in small groups to prevent further spread of the virus. The House chamber was cleaned in between votes, with staff quickly cleaning surfaces before lawmakers entered again. Seven members of Congress have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
It was the first time in a month that many lawmakers have been back to the U.S. Capitol, though not all of the body’s 435 members made it back to Washington for the vote.
The House on Thursday also took up a resolution to establish a congressional committee dedicated to providing oversight over the coronavirus crisis and trillions of dollars in relief money. The resolution was approved in a 212-182 vote.
This small business stimulus measure is the fourth bill Congress has approved to counter the pandemic. More aid may be on the way as Congressional leaders and Trump acknowledged another measure will be needed.
Here are the bills Congress has passed to counter the pandemic:
- $8.3 billion to find a vaccine and supplies and ensure state and local health providers were prepared. It was signed by the president March 6.
- $192 billion for paid sick and family leave, food stamp benefits and free coronavirus testing. Trump signed the bill March 18.
- $2 trillion for widespread financial relief for people and businesses hurting because of the economic impacts of coronavirus. The package included checks for Americans, bolstered unemployment benefits and the establishment of the PPP. The $2 trillion package, the largest relief measure in U.S. history, was signed by Trump on March 27.
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