September 21, 2020

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White House, Congress near deal for more small-business money, trying to work through last-minute snags

WASHINGTON – The US Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved $484 billion in additional coronavirus relief for the US economy and hospitals treating patients sickened by the pandemic, sending the measure to the House of Representatives for final passage later this week.

The bill, approved by the Senate on a voice vote in a near-empty chamber, was hurried along shortly after congressional leaders and the White House brokered an agreement on the measure.

The House is expected to vote on Thursday on what would be the fourth coronavirus-response law. Taken together, these four measures amount to about $3 trillion in aid since last month.

President Donald Trump urged Congress to give quick approval to the measure that mainly expands funding for loans to small businesses hobbled by the pandemic, leaving additional aid to state and local governments for a later bill.

Noting the “crash timeline” for passing the bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said it was necessary during “unprecedented times for the entire nation.”

The deal includes $321 billion for a small business lending program, $60 billion for a separate emergency disaster loan program – also for small businesses, as well as $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for national coronavirus testing.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, during a short debate, highlighted the bill’s funds for fighting the coronavirus, in addition to aid to small businesses.

“We can give loans to small businesses, but if there’s no customers walking the streets to go into their stores, what good is that?” Schumer said.

Congress already is working on a fifth coronavirus-response bill. Schumer said it could be “similar in size” to the $2.3 trillion economic stimulus enacted on March 27.

(Reuters)