Capitol Hill -- As small businesses across the country are crushed by the economic fallout from the spreading coronavirus pandemic, and as unemployment claims skyrocket to a historic 16 million in just the last three weeks, the Senate on Thursday failed to approve an emergency funding infusion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a federal plan designed to extend loans to keep those ailing businesses afloat and workers getting paid.
Democrats blocked a request from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to unanimously approve a $250 billion PPP replenishment to the original $350 billion fund, demanding more aid for hospitals and other needs be included.
“Just a few days after the program opened for business, $100 billion in loans have already been committed. That is 30 percent of the total funding, spoken for in just the first few days,” said McConnell, calling the Democrats' blockade “political maneuvering.”
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“This does not have to be, nor should it be, contentious. We don’t have to divide along the usual lines so soon after we came together for the country,” added McConnell. “To my Democratic colleagues, please, do not block emergency aid you do not even oppose just because you want something more.
But Democrats, represented Thursday by Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, decried McConnell’s move as “a political stunt,” claiming that the GOP leader knew beforehand that the measure would fail, particularly as his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, had unveiled a $500 billion relief package earlier this week, $250 billion of which would aid small businesses, half of that for minority-owned ones, and the other $250 billion earmarked for hospitals, first responders, and those in dire need of food assistance.
“Yes, we need more money,” Van Hollen said, “But for goodness sakes, let's take the opportunity to make this program work better for the very businesses it is designed to help.”
Cardin, who sits atop the Senate Small Business Committee, noted that Democrats were “all for more funding” for PPP, but that other emergency funds, designed as grants, for small businesses had already run out of money and desperately needed more.
“You don’t have to have a banking relationship with a commercial bank in order to get these loans. Very, very popular. Three point eight million requests have come in...representing $372 billion of loans. But here’s the problem - we’ve only authorized $7.3 billion of loans under the program,” said Cardin, adding, “That’s why we’re suggesting, if you add another $50 billion, you could authorize another $300 billion of loans.”
As Democrats tried to get their proposal through the Senate Thursday, McConnell objected.
Afterward, the GOP leader pointed out to reporters that much of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief aid, including $100 billion in emergency funds for hospitals, had not yet been disbursed. The GOP leader indicated a large portion for hospitals would go out Friday, and he signaled he was open to a bipartisan negotiation for more funding at some point, not closing the door on what Democrats proposed.
“No one is necessarily against additional assistance,” said McConnell, adding, “Much of the rest of the money has not gone out yet. So it’s hard to measure the effect of that and the additional need. This is the one program that was running out of money, needed assistance now, and all my proposed amendment would do, at the request of the Administration, was to simply change one number.”
It seems certain that Congress will increase PPP, but under what circumstances it remains unclear. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is talking to Democrats, but where those discussions will land is anyone's guess at this point.
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This report was featured in the Friday, April 10, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.
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