US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (L) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (R) hold a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 22, 2019, following a meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
The top Democrats in Congress pushed Wednesday for an “interim” emergency coronavirus bill to include at least $500 billion in relief for small businesses, hospitals, states and food assistance programs.
In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer supported another $250 billion in loans to small companies — a sum the Trump administration has requested and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell aims to pass through the Senate on Thursday. It would add to the $350 billion in aid approved as part of the $2 trillion emergency package passed last month. The Trump administration has reported high demand for the loans.
Democrats want the stopgap legislation to go further as the coronavirus pandemic rips across the country, stretching health care resources and state budgets and shutting down schools and businesses. Pelosi and Schumer called for:
- $250 billion in small business loans, with $125 billion going to community lenders
- $100 billion to bolster hospitals and community health centers, with funds going toward the production of coronavirus tests and protective medical equipment
- $150 billion for state and local governments (some officials such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is managing the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, said the last congressional bill did not do enough for states battling coronavirus)
- A 15% increase to the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit
The Democratic leaders described the bill as separate from one they aim to pass to expand the provisions of the CARES Act. The federal government has only started to implement the $2 trillion package, the largest emergency spending plan in U.S. history.
“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. “CARES 2 must provide transformational relief as the American people weather this assault on their lives and livelihoods.”
On Tuesday, McConnell said he would try to pass the additional small business funding by unanimous consent or voice vote during the Senate’s pro forma session on Thursday. In a statement, he did not mention any other provisions he wants to see in the bill.
Any one senator can stop legislation from passing by unanimous consent. The Democratic-held House could also vote down legislation even if the Senate approves it.
A spokesman for McConnell did not immediately respond to a request to comment on whether the Kentucky Republican would consider adding any of the Democrats’ priorities to the proposal this week.
Congress is out of Washington as the pandemic wreaks havoc on the country. The U.S. now has roughly 400,000 COVID-19 cases, and the disease has been linked to at least 12,911 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
It has also devastated the economy. Roughly 10 million people filed new unemployment claims over a two-week period, and the U.S. lost 701,000 jobs in early March — before the biggest wave of business shutdowns.
The CARES Act passed last month included direct payments to individuals, enhanced unemployment insurance, small business loans, health care funding and a $500 billion pool of loans and grants for corporations and states.
Pelosi has called for another round of checks to individuals and to extend the unemployment benefits for two more months.