Trump says Congress ready to finalize $450 billion rescue plan

A $450 billion aid package adds funds to a U.S. small-business loan program that has run out of money and funds hospitals and COVID-19 testing.

AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File
President Donald Trump listens as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks at the White House in Washington on April 13, 2020. The Trump administration and Congress are nearing an agreement on a $450-plus billion aid package.

The Trump administration and Congress expect an agreement Monday on an aid package of up to $450 billion to boost a small-business loan program that has run out of money and will add funds for hospitals and COVID-19 testing.

As talks continued, President Donald Trump said there’s a “good chance” of reaching a bipartisan agreement with Democrats.

“We are very close to a deal,” Mr. Trump said Sunday at the White House.

Along with the small business boost, Mr. Trump said the negotiators were looking at “helping our hospitals,” particularly hard-hit rural health care providers.

The Senate is scheduled for a pro forma session Monday, but no vote has been set.

The House announced it could meet as soon as Wednesday for a vote on the pending package, according to a schedule update from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

With small-business owners reeling during a coronavirus outbreak that has shuttered much economic activity, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he was hopeful of a deal that could pass Congress quickly and get the Small Business Administration program back up by midweek.

“I’m hopeful that we can get that done,” Mr. Mnuchin said Sunday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also said he believed a deal could be reached. “We still have a few more details to deal with,” he said.

The emerging accord links the administration’s effort to replenish a small-business with Democrats’ demands for more money for hospitals and virus testing. It would provide $300 billion for small-business payroll program, and $50 billion would be available for small business disaster fund. Additionally, it would bring $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing, according to those involved in the talks.

On a conference call Sunday afternoon that included Mr. Trump, Mr. Mnuchin, and Republican senators, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., indicated the only remaining item for discussion involved the money for testing, according to a Senate GOP leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private call.

But Democrats have been insisting on boosting funding to cash-strapped states and local governments whose revenues have cratered. In weekend talks, they had proposed $150 billion for the effort.

“We are pushing hard,” Mr. Schumer said.

But Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. McConnell reiterated on the call with senators that money for state and local governments as well as food stamps would not be included in the package, according to the GOP aide.

“The president is willing to consider that in the next bill, but wants to get this over the finish line with a focus on small businesses, hospitals and testing,” Mr. Mnuchin said.

He said he’s been in touch with GOP leaders including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and all are “on board with the same plan.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., predicted an agreement would be reached “soon.”

Under the emerging deal, the government’s Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses would get roughly $300 billion, according to Mr. Mnuchin. The Small Business Administration program has been swamped by companies applying for loans and reached its appropriations limit last Thursday after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. That left thousands of small businesses in limbo as they sought help. An additional $50 billion in the evolving deal would go for disaster loans.

Criticism has been leveled at some large businesses - auto dealers and restaurant chains - for drawing down funds from the PPE. On Sunday, Shake Shack released a statement saying it will return all $10 million it received from the program.

“Our people would benefit from a $10 million [Paycheck Protection Program] loan but we’re fortunate to now have access to capital that others do not,” the company’s executives, Danny Meyer and Randy Garutti, wrote in a letter shared on LinkedIn. “Until every restaurant that needs it has had the same opportunity to receive assistance, we’re returning ours.”

In the new aid package, about $75 billion would go to U.S. hospitals, for those straining under a ballooning coronavirus caseload as well as those struggling to stay financially afloat after suspending elective surgeries during the pandemic. About $25 billion would be added for COVID-19 testing, something states have said was urgently needed.

Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who leads the National Governors’ Association, said he and other governors believe that aid for state and local government is “desperately needed,″ but that it may not be an issue worth fighting over for now.

Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said states needed money from the federal government to ramp up testing, and he blasted legislation that wouldn’t provide it.

“You have the president saying 15 times, ‘It’s up to the governors, it’s up to the governors, it’s up to the governors,‘” he said. “And then they’re going to pass a piece of legislation that gives you know what to states: zero, zilch, nada, niente. Whatever language you want to say it, nothing.”

The SBA loans, based on a company’s payroll costs, offer owners forgiveness if they retain workers or rehire those who have been laid off. The law provides for forgiveness for companies in any industry – even businesses like hedge funds and law firms. There’s a limit of $100,000 on the amount of employees’ compensation that can be considered when loan forgiveness is calculated.

Mr. Mnuchin, Mr. Schumer, and Mr. Hogan appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Clark spoke on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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