| 19.2°C Belfast

Chuck Schumer: Deal reached on major parts of 500bn-dollar US coronavirus aid package

The US Senate Democratic Leader said post-midnight talks among Democratic and Republican leaders produced a breakthrough.

Close

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (Andrew Harnik/AP)

US Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said agreement has been reached on major elements of a nearly 500 billion-dollar (£400bn) coronavirus aid package for small businesses, including additional help for hospitals and virus testing.

A Tuesday afternoon Senate session could provide an opportunity to quickly vote if the final deal comes together.

“We have a deal and I think we’ll pass it today,” Mr Schumer said on Tuesday morning on CNN.

He cautioned that staff are still “dotting the Is and crossing the Ts.”

Mr Schumer said post-midnight talks among Democratic and Republican leaders, along with top Trump administration officials produced a breakthrough agreement on the package.

President Donald Trump said he supports the measure, tweeting: “I urge the Senate and House to pass the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act with additional funding.”

Mr Trump said he was open to including in a subsequent virus aid package fiscal relief for state and local government — which Democrats had wanted for the current bill — along with infrastructure projects.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to publicly comment on the emerging deal, but was expected to do so when the Senate opens.

“Every major issue was resolved,” Mr Schumer said. “So yes, I believe we have a deal.”

Most of the funding, more than 300 billion dollars, would go to boost a small-business payroll loan programme that ran out of money last week.

Additional help would be given to hospitals, and billions more would be spent to boost testing for the virus, a key step in building the confidence required to reopen state economies.

Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, told a conference call with reporters that House votes would occur on Thursday.

He said the House will also vote on a proposal to allow proxy voting during the pandemic, a first for Congress, which has required in-person business essentially since its founding.

The Maryland Democrat insisted that proxy voting is “no substitute” for traditional roll calls. But he also wants to go further by opening committees hearings to remote ways of doing business during the crisis.

“The House must show the American people that we continue to work hard on their behalf,” Mr Hoyer wrote to colleagues.

The emerging draft measure — originally designed by Republicans as a 250 billion-dollar stopgap to replenish the payroll subsidies for smaller businesses — has grown into the second largest of the four coronavirus response bills so far.

With small-business owners reeling during a coronavirus outbreak that has shuttered much economic activity, the administration has been pressing for an immediate replenishment of the paycheque protection programme.

Talks have dragged as the two sides have quarrelled over the design of a nationwide testing regime, among other unsettled pieces.

Close

(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Democrats were rebuffed in a request for another 150 billion dollars in aid to revenue-strapped state governments but did win the ability to use recently appropriated federal funds to cover revenue losses from the economic shutdown instead of using it only for costs related to suppressing Covid-19.

The administration says further state aid will come in the next relief bill.

There is also pressure to help cities with populations of less than 500,000 that were shut out of the massive two trillion-dollar relief bill that passed last month.

Mr Schumer said on Monday that he had talked to Federal Reserve Board chairman Jerome Powell and that Mr Powell said the Fed is working to open up the Main Street Lending programme to non-profits and municipal governments.

The emerging accord links the administration’s effort to replenish the small-business fund with Democrats’ demands for more money for hospitals and virus testing.

It would provide more than 300 billion dollars (£243bn) for the small-business payroll programme, with 60 billion dollars (£48.6bn) or so set aside for community lenders that seek to focus on underbanked neighbourhoods and rural areas.

Another 60 billion dollars would be available for a small-business loans and grants programme that has previously been aimed at helping businesses harmed by natural disasters like hurricanes.

Additionally, it would bring 75 billion dollars (£60.8bn) for hospitals and 25 billion dollars (£20.3bn) for testing, according to those involved in the talks.

The US government’s paycheque protection programme has been swamped by companies applying for loans and reached its appropriations limit last Thursday after approving nearly 1.7 million loans.

PA