House Republicans, key administration officials push for additional funding for coronavirus small business loans
Republican leadership in the House and key administration officials advocated for passing additional funding for small business loans amid the coronavirus pandemic, cautioning during a conference call with members on Wednesday that the $350 billion approved for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) could be maxed out in coming days.
As Congress grapples over how to best proceed with its next stimulus package amid the pandemic — with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) looking to bring a phase four bill providing an additional $250 billion for the small businesses payroll program to the floor on Thursday — Vice President Pence, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and leading members of the White House’s coronavirus task force asserted their commitment to securing additional funds in hopes of helping companies stay afloat, according to multiple sources on the call.
While the initial rollout of the program had a rocky start, with complaints from both borrowers and lenders about the rules and application process, GOP lawmakers noted that the Small Business Administration (SBA) has already sent out $90 billion of the $350 billion in the days following the passage of the third stimulus bill, and has seen hundreds of thousands of additional applications, lauding the administration for moving quickly to address the problem.
“The Paycheck Protection Program dollars have gone out in less than a week’s time, which is Herculean speed for the federal government,” Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) told The Hill.
However, lawmakers also acknowledged the issues with program, one of them being that it may require additional funding.
“We talked about small business concerns, which are pretty huge right now,” another GOP lawmaker told The Hill of the Wednesday phone call. “Some banks are just refusing to participate still, which is really egregious at this point, but also the banks are worried based on what happened after Dodd-Frank.
“So it’s really trying to get that give and take between what banks are expected to do with the legislation, and also the volume of people that they’re trying to absorb right now,” the lawmaker continued. “There’s $90 billion already executed, another hundred billion already in the pipeline. So you’re talking about out of that initial $350 billion or so, $190 billion is already spoken for — it’s been four days.”
Lawmakers were also informed that the administration would be announcing a new initiative, the Main Street Lending Program, for mid-sized businesses within the next several days, and that the Department of Treasury is in the process of creating a state and local government liquidity facility, according to one senior member on the call.
While additional funding for the PPP has received bipartisan support, passing a bill through both chambers still faces hurdles, with sticking points on key provisions.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are pushing for language to be included assuring that half of the $250 billion be “channeled through community-based financial institutions that serve farmers, family, women, minority and veteran-owned small businesses and nonprofits in rural, tribal, suburban and urban communities.”
Pelosi indicated that the Senate bill in its current form is unlikely to pass the lower chamber via unanimous consent.
“The bill that they put forth will not get unanimous support in the House. It just won’t,” she told NPR.
Calls for additional funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits have also proven to be a point of contention.
“For us, it’s really looking at phase four, which I believe will be the $250 billion more for the PPP,” Davis said. “But I think Speaker Pelosi really hurt our ability to address a lot of things like infrastructure in any of these packages when she swooped in and put her liberal wish list and demands together [that] unfortunately … had nothing to do with an emergency.
“This one is more money for SNAP and the federal government,” Davis continued. “It hasn’t even been two weeks yet since we passed the bill and had it signed into law. [The federal government] has not distributed those funds yet. Let’s see what the needs are; we know the needs are there for the Small Business Program.”
In addition to discussing how to navigate the economic fallout from the virus, Pence also briefed and took questions from members on the administration’s efforts to expedite getting critical medical supplies to COVID-19 hot spots.
“The issue that we’ve seen is some price gouging, and we want to make sure we get in front of that,” one GOP lawmaker told The Hill in reference to Personal Protective Equipment or PPEs,adding they are looking to ensure that vulnerable populations have access to what they need.
Administration officials also asserted they expect to see testing become more accessible and faster turnaround on results, highlighting their work with Abbott in hopes of getting “24- to 48-hour turnover on testing” in the near future.
Senior administration officials told reporters Tuesday that they are also working to accelerate getting key supplies to areas in need through the AirBridge program — a new public-private partnership initiative that involves the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and private sector companies flying medical supplies in from abroad to U.S. hot spots.
One senior administration official said they expect millions of masks to be brought in, in addition to the deal made domestically to address the shortage in supplies.
“In essence, what we’re doing is we’re accelerating from all over Asia shipments of supplies, millions and millions into the United States,” the official said.
“I mean, these are significant massive influxes to really address and continue to address what was the math deficiency, and do it in the near term,” the official continued. “So 100,000 ventilators in the next hundred days and … on the 3M side, that was an additional 55.5 million masks per month for the next three months, so that’s 156.5 million masks.”
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