Trump signs $484B relief package for small businesses, hospitals, testing

By KYW Newsradio 1060

UPDATED: 1:05 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — President Donald Trump signed a $484 billion bill Friday to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 50,000 Americans and devastated broad swaths of the economy.

The House of Representatives approved the relief package Thursday night. 

This additional funding, to ease the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic, is dedicated for small businesses, hospitals and expanded coronavirus testing. 

The House vote was 388 to five, and, in a sign of the times, many representatives were wearing masks while in the House chambers.

A huge chunk of the money — $310 billion — is set to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program, which ran out of cash last week.

The program, which was part of the $2 trillion CARES Act, provides money for banks to loan out to small businesses in order to pay their workers. 

There has been criticism, from both sides of the aisle, that places like big chain restaurants were able to secure loans while smaller shops came away empty.

“These dollars must actually make it to those who need it,” Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean, of Pennsylvania’s 4th District, said on the House floor. “Small family businesses, minority- and women-owned businesses — so many I talked to over these last few weeks.”

“If the Treasury Department does not establish guardrails to differentiate between well-capitalized brokerage firms and under-capitalized mom-and-pop shops, we will not be helping the people that need us the most right now,” echoed Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of the 1st District.

“This is not the time to be attacking each other. We must get through this crisis together,” he added. “We must have each other’s backs.”

Also part of the bill is $75 billion for hospitals, which includes money for personal protective equipment (PPE), and another $25 billion that’s supposed to expand coronavirus testing.

The Senate passed the bill earlier this week. 

Trump thanked Congress for “answering my call” to provide the critical assistance and said it was “a tremendous victory.” But easy passage of this aid installment belies a potentially bumpier path ahead for future legislation to address the crisis.

There has been talk from members of both parties about yet another relief package down the road. Part of that package may help bail out state and local governments.

Passage of more coronavirus relief is likely in the weeks ahead. Supporters are already warning that the business-backed Payroll Protection Program will exhaust the new $250 billion almost immediately. Launched just weeks ago, the program quickly reached its lending limit after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. That left thousands of small businesses in limbo as they sought help.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and allies said the next measure will distribute more relief to individuals, extend more generous jobless benefits into the fall, provide another round of direct payments to most people and help those who are laid off afford health insurance through COBRA.

Democrats tried to win another round of funding for state and local governments in Thursday’s bill but were rebuffed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who says he’s going to try to pump the brakes on runaway deficit spending. McConnell says he doesn't want to bail out Democratic-governed states for fiscal problems that predated the pandemic, but there's plenty of demand for state fiscal relief among Republicans, too.

After the Senate passed the bill Tuesday, McConnell said Republicans would entertain no more coronavirus rescue legislation until the Senate returns to Washington in May. He promised rank-and-file Republicans greater say in the future legislation, rather than leaving it in the hands of bipartisan leaders.

Pelosi attacked McConnell for at first opposing adding any money to his original $250 billion package and saying cash-strapped states should be allowed to declare bankruptcy, a move that they currently cannot do and that would threaten a broad range of state services. McConnell’s comments provoked an outcry — including from GOP governors — and he later tempered his remarks.

The four coronavirus relief bills approved so far by Congress would deliver at least $2.4 trillion for business relief, testing and treatment, and direct payments to individuals and the unemployed, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The deficit is virtually certain to breach $3 trillion this year.

Among the candidates for aid in the next bill is the Postal Service, which has more than 600,000 workers but is getting clobbered by COVID-19-related revenue losses.

___

The Associated Press contributed to this report.