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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHarris, Ocasio-Cortez among Democrats calling for recurring direct payments in fourth coronavirus bill House Republicans, key administration officials push for additional funding for coronavirus small business loans Rep. Massie threatens to block next relief bill, calls for remote voting MORE (D-N.Y.) describing the talks as at the "two-yard line" and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOvernight Health Care: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next relief deal | Fauci says death toll could be around 60,000 Trump downplays need for widespread testing before reopening economy On The Money: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | More than 6M file for jobless benefits | Fed launches T in economic relief | Dems, Mnuchin in talks over next aid deal 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 PelosiPelosi calls for investigation into reports of mistreatment of pregnant women in DHS custody Wisconsin highlights why states need a bipartisan plan that doesn't include Democrats federalizing elections Pelosi defends push for mail-in voting: GOP 'afraid' to let people vote 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.

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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.

"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 PetersonSNAP, airlines among final hurdles to coronavirus stimulus deal Pelosi: House 'not prepared' to vote remotely on coronavirus relief bill Lone Democrat to oppose impeachment will seek reelection 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.

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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 blocks dueling coronavirus relief plans Five problems banks face in getting coronavirus relief out the door Mnuchin, Schumer in talks to strike short-term relief deal 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.