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SNAP, airlines among final hurdles to coronavirus stimulus deal

 

Disagreements over food stamps and assistance for airlines are among the final hurdles to a congressional deal on a massive stimulus package aimed at combating the coronavirus and bolstering the economy.

Negotiators say they are close to finalizing the agreement — with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Trump announces opening of relations between Sudan and Israel Five takeaways on Iran, Russia election interference MORE (D-N.Y.) describing the talks as at the "two-yard line" and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinSunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day Hillicon Valley: Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting critical facilities | Appeals court rules Uber, Lyft must comply with labor laws | Biden: Countries that target US elections will 'pay a price' Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight MORE saying he expects a deal on Tuesday.

But GOP senators and White House officials emerged from a closed-door meeting saying they were still working to draft and agree on the text of the bill, which is expected to be hundreds of pages long.

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Among the stickier provisions is a Democratic push to increase funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which helps low-income individuals buy food.

Democrats are pushing to boost funding for the program as part of the stimulus package. States are reporting seeing an increase in SNAP applications as businesses have closed or scaled back because of the coronavirus and laid off workers.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day MORE (D-Calif.) said that she had thought there was an agreement to increase SNAP funding by 15 percent, but as of Monday night it had been removed from negotiations over what will be in the bill.

"As [of] last night, they said that’s out. I hope that’s not the case, because that’s so needed," she told CNBC.

The potential that the boost in funding could be excluded is setting up alarm bells across the House Democratic Caucus, particularly among liberals and members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). They have long championed SNAP and are insisting it be included in the massive stimulus package.

A former Democratic leadership staffer familiar with the concerns said the SNAP supporters "are going apeshit over it" — to the point that Pelosi might have trouble moving the Senate bill through the House by unanimous consent unless the funding is returned.

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"This is bigger than most people think," said the former staffer. "This is like the rubicon for a lot of these members. ... I don't think she can hold back the caucus unless they fix this."

The issue is significant enough that Pelosi on Tuesday called Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonEnergized by polls, House Democrats push deeper into GOP territory Democrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade Why the Supreme Court must be kept at nine justices MORE (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over SNAP, to weigh his level of concern, the former staffer said.

Eric Ueland, the White House director of legislative affairs, acknowledged that no deal has been reached on SNAP.

"We've had some conversations about SNAP over the past couple of days .... we continue to work to see if we can find a solution on that issue that reflects the priorities of Republicans and the interest of Democrats, but it's not quite there yet," he said, asked about Pelosi's comments.

In addition to food assistance, negotiators are still trying to finalize an agreement on how assistance for airlines would be structured under the bill.

A senior administration official said earlier Tuesday that they were looking at either loans or grants. Either option would require the company to agree to restrictions on stock buybacks and executive compensation if they took federal help.

But after the GOP lunch, negotiators were still debating what sort of assistance airlines should get and what strings should be tied to it.

"Particularly when it comes to airlines, that's really important in terms of how that language is written in that fund," Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Trump's new interest in water resources — why now? MORE (R-Fla.) told reporters after the closed-door caucus lunch.

Asked if the airline provisions were still unresolved, Ueland acknowledged that was "accurate" because they were still trying to refine and agree to legislative text.

"There's a lot of conceptual conversation, then it gets reduced to writing, people have a chance to read and review that, they have reactions to that ... rinse repeat, so we're going through several rounds of that," Ueland said.

Asked if how airline companies would pay back the assistance was still under discussion, Ueland added: "That's part of the process that we're going through right now"

"There have been a lot of ideas on the table about how we assist the aviation industry, some people have discussed loans, other people have discussed grants," he said.

The haggling comes as negotiators are trying to reach a deal on Tuesday.

"We're trying to finalize all the documents, going through a lot of complicated issues and we're making a lot of progress,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.