Democrats Lay Out Extra Virus Aid Package Totaling $500 Billion

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer walks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to a March 2020 lunch with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Congressional Democrats called for another massive aid package Wednesday in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, pitching $500 billion in aid to small businesses, hospitals and municipal governments.

Families that get food stamps meanwhile would get a 15% increase to the maximum benefit, according to a release this afternoon from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

“After we pass this interim emergency legislation, Congress will move to pass a CARES 2 Act that will extend and expand the bipartisan CARES Act to meet the needs of the American people,” they said in a statement. 

The $2.2 trillion CARES Act was the third major piece of legislation Congress approved during the coronavirus outbreak. Since its passage on March 27, lawmakers have set out different visions for what the next response should look like. 

Under the Democrats’ new plan, small businesses would get $250 billion, with half of that amount aimed at “community-based financial institutions that serve farmers, family, women, minority and veteran-owned small businesses and nonprofits in rural, tribal, suburban and urban communities across our country.”

Because the initial package led to banks being deluged with applications, Schumer and Pelosi said they are improving the system to ensure no eligible small business is turned away. 

Hospitals still in desperate need of rapid-testing resources and personal protective equipment would see $100 billion from the new proposal.

Doubling down on the investment secured in the CARES Act, the lawmakers said they also want to direct $150 billion to help state and local governments “manage this crisis and mitigate lost revenue.”

The Senate is expected to soon take up new funding for a small business loan plan created under the $2.2 trillion coronavirus-response bill that the Senate passed late last month. The original bill set aside $250 billion in loans to small businesses that could be forgiven if the businesses use the money to cover payroll, rent payments and certain other expenses.

But the Trump administration is asking for an additional round of funding for the program as unemployment rises and businesses struggle with state-mandated closures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. Mnuchin said Tuesday he had spoken with congressional leadership of both parties about clearing an additional $350 billion for the loan program. 

Also on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced plans for the Senate to unanimously approve the additional funding in a vote during a pro forma session on Thursday, though no formal proposal has come forward as of Wednesday afternoon. 

McConnell’s office did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday on the proposal from Schumer and Pelosi.

Democrats have called for a plan to provide additional money to health care workers, as well as grocery store employees, truck drivers and other workers deemed essential during the outbreak. House Democrats have also put forward an estimated $770 billion infrastructure spending package.

Lawmakers at various times have also suggested a payroll tax holiday — a favorite of the White House — plus increases to the state and local tax deduction, and other legislative responses to the outbreak. In addition to substance, it remains unclear when a formal package would come together, with both the House and Senate out until April 20, and Pelosi and McConnell appearing to have different timelines for clearing a Phase IV response.

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