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Trump signs coronavirus aid bill for small business, hospitals

Nearly $500 billion package got lopsided support after testy negotiations

Reps. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., and Don Bacon, R-Neb., wear face masks as they leave the Capitol after voting on the aid package Thursday.
Reps. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., and Don Bacon, R-Neb., wear face masks as they leave the Capitol after voting on the aid package Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump on Friday signed a $483 billion COVID-19 economic assistance package, the fourth and likely not the last installment of pandemic relief Congress will send him.

The so-called interim bill materialized after it became clear two weeks ago that the Small Business Administration was close to burning through $349 billion in new forgivable loans to firms that use the money to keep employees on payroll.

The package would replenish that program, enacted as part of the broader $2 trillion coronavirus aid package last month, with another $321 billion.

Even that amount may not be sufficient for long, however, some experts have warned. Through last week, nearly 1.7 million small businesses received aid, the SBA reported. According to the latest Census Bureau data, there were close to 6 million employers with 500 or fewer workers, not counting other firms that meet the criteria.

During the negotiations, Democrats secured another $75 billion for hospitals and other health care providers, on top of $100 billion in last month’s bill. They also were successful in adding $25 billion for expanded COVID-19 testing, including funds to cover tests for those without health insurance.

The Senate approved the bill Tuesday by voice vote, with the House following Thursday by a lopsided 388-5 vote.

Negotiations took about two weeks and included some tension between Republicans and Democrats, though much harder-to-resolve issues have already begun cropping up as talks on a fifth aid package begin.

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The next round of talks are likely to last much longer, given Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge to slow things down given the rampant deficit spending that’s occurred thus far. The cost to taxpayers of the laws signed since March is more than $2.4 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

One of the largest sticking points in the next bill will be how to help state and local governments address severe budget shortfalls that are only getting worse as tax revenues continue to decline amid the stay-at-home orders.

Democrats wanted the just-passed bill to include $150 billion in aid, but were unsuccessful. The National Governors Association said $500 billion was needed to avoid steep cuts to schools and other public services.

The next round of talks will also include debate about mail-in voting for November’s election, how to bolster infrastructure spending and whether health care and other “front line” workers should get hazard pay.

For the time being, McConnell said he doesn’t want to engage in serious debate until that chamber returns to Washington on May 4. The House is also scheduled to return that week, though that could be pushed back amid concerns about the health of lawmakers and staff.

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