Coronavirus relief bill talks to continue over weekend


Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made a statement after meetings to conclude work on legislation relating to economic assistance for coronaviruses during the coronavirus disease epidemic (COVID-19), in Washington, United States, on March 22, 2020.

Mary F. Calvert | Reuters

Congressional Democrats and the Trump administration will hold talks over the weekend to try to reach agreement on an emergency bill to restore a program to boost small businesses hit by coronavirus, said Friday on minority leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer.

The New York Democrat seemed optimistic that a deal would be reached a day after the Small Business Administration said that the $ 349 billion loan program approved last month had reached its commitment ceiling. Senate Republicans tried to adopt a plan last week to inject an additional $ 250 billion, but Democrats blocked it as they called for program adjustments and funding for hospitals and state governments and local communities.

It is not known how many small businesses received money from the program.

Staff from Schumer’s offices and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had discussions with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin this week on a draft bailout bill – whether Senate Republicans may or may not choose to to press.

“We have had constructive talks. They will continue throughout the weekend, and I see no reason why we cannot reach an agreement quickly, “Schumer told the MSNBC” Morning Joe “program.

Schumer has been criticized for delaying the increase in funding for the program, which is designed to keep workers on small business payrolls. On Friday, he said, “it is vital that we help small businesses, but if we don’t deal with screening and health care issues, if we don’t deal with local government issues, small businesses may have enough money to come back, even if we have to fix this program, but people will not go out on the street. “

The senator noted that President Donald Trump appeared more optimistic about the talks on Thursday evening. During a briefing on the coronavirus at the White House, the president said he expected “something will happen.”

Democrats have called for at least an additional $ 250 billion for pandemic hospitals, states and municipalities, as well as food aid programs. They also wanted to invest only $ 125 billion directly in the existing small business loan program, and to allocate an additional $ 125 billion to community lenders and SBA disaster assistance loans and grants.

Party leaders said the structure of the $ 2 trillion package adopted last month had left out companies that did not yet have banking relationships.

The Republicans argued that their counterparts suspended small businesses and their employees from drying out by not approving the money last week.

“It shouldn’t have happened. Republicans have been sounding the alarm for more than a week, “said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday as the loan program approached. its commitment limit.

Neither of the two houses of Congress plans to return to Washington before early May. Legislators can pass bills with only a few members present, but they need a broad consensus on the law to do so.

The coronavirus epidemic continues to spread in the United States as Congress strives to reach agreement on how to respond to the evolving crisis. Covid-19 has infected at least 671,000 people across the country and killed more than 33,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

At the same time, closings put in place to limit the spread of the pandemic have led to staggering 22 million unemployment insurance claims in the past four weeks.

Democrats hope to adopt a separate plan to extend key provisions of the $ 2 trillion bailout, including direct payments to Americans and strengthening unemployment insurance.

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