5 things to know about the latest coronavirus relief bill
The Senate this week passed another supplemental coronavirus relief bill to replenish funding for a small-business loan program and bolster the country’s medical response to the pandemic.
The primary purpose of the $484 billion bill, which is expected to pass the House on Thursday, is to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), an initiative that offers loans to businesses that can be forgiven if the money is used to keep employees on payrolls.
But the measure also includes billions to expand coronavirus testing and help keep states and hospitals afloat amid the pandemic. Here are five things to know about the coronavirus relief bill.
More funding for small-business loans
The bill will add $310 billion to the funding pool for the PPP managed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) after businesses exhausted the initial $349 billion allocated for the program in less than two weeks.
Funding for PPP loans ran out last Thursday amid negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over conditions replenishing the program. Small-business advocates, economists and lenders warned soon after the PPP opened that the funding would be exhausted quickly, but lawmakers struggled to strike a deal until Tuesday.
The SBA has been unable to process PPP applications since funding for the program expired, which means another massive backlog could be looming for the agency that could quickly draw down the new pool of funds.
The measure also adds $10 billion in funding for the Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which allows businesses to borrow up to $2 million with an initial grant of up to $10,000.
Carve-outs for smaller lenders
While the PPP has broad bipartisan support, Republicans and Democrats squabbled over how to replenish its funding and what restrictions should apply after an outcry when nationwide chains and companies were able to tap loans, while some small businesses were left out in the cold.
President Trump, GOP lawmakers and banking industry advocates proposed adding more money to the program with no strings attached to pump out loans as quickly as possible. But Democratic leaders refused to approve new PPP funding without provisions to gear money toward women- and minority-owned businesses.
Instead, the bill allocates $30 billion in loans to be issued exclusively by federally insured banks and credit unions with assets between $10 billion and $50 billion, and another $30 billion in loans to be issued by firms with less than $10 billion in assets. Like the initial funding, the loans will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
“These funds are sorely needed by small-business customers in urban, suburban and rural communities,” said Rebeca Romero Rainey, president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America, a trade group for smaller banks.
But advocates for larger banks have expressed concerns that the money set aside for small firms could jam up the process by making the SBA update its electronic system for accepting and processing loans, which crashed soon after the program opened.
“Forcing SBA to reprogram their processing systems could cause unnecessary delays and confusion for small businesses trying to save millions of jobs. Hopefully, SBA can make the changes mandated by Congress quickly,” said Richard Hunt, president of the Consumer Bankers of America.
Aid for hospitals
Democrats insisted on including financial support for states and hospitals facing soaring costs in treating COVID-19 patients as the economic fallout spreads from the pandemic. While Democrats didn’t secure funding for states, the bill includes an additional $75 billion for hospitals to cover treatment for coronavirus patients and lost revenue from canceled elective procedures.
That was less than the initial $100 billion provided for hospitals facing severe financial pressure despite the overwhelming surge in patients.
More money for more COVID tests
The bill also includes $25 billion in funding to develop and expand access to tests for COVID-19, a crucial step toward curbing the pandemic and easing social distancing restrictions.
State, local, territorial and tribal governments will receive up to $11 billion in funds to develop, run and process COVID-19 tests, boost laboratory capacity, trace contacts and help employers test workers for the virus.
The measure also sends billions to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to boost coronavirus surveillance, research and progress toward treatments and vaccines.
Requiring a Trump testing plan
Trump and governors in COVID-19 hot spots have squabbled for weeks over who bears responsibility for the drastic expansion in testing capacity needed to begin easing social distancing restrictions. While governors have implored the president for additional tests and access to federal labs, Trump has insisted that it is up to states to secure enough tests to move forward.
The bill, however, requires Trump to release a plan to help states test a far greater number of residents — a major point of contention between Democrats and Republicans in negotiations with the White House amid the president’s feuds with governors.
Jordain Carney contributed to this story, which was updated at 5:51 p.m.
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