United States congressional Democratic leaders have proposed adding hundreds of billions of dollars for healthcare, state and local governments, and food stamps to the emergency aid President Donald Trump requested to help small businesses weather the coronavirus epidemic.
Trump requested an additional $250bn for a just-launched small businesses payroll programme and is looking to secure congressional passage this week. For that, he will need Democratic support.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer outlined their own priorities in a statement on Wednesday.
They said they will approve the $250bn in assistance to small businesses, but want $125bn of that channelled through community-based financial institutions that serve farmers, families, women, minorities and veterans.
They also requested an additional $100bn for hospitals and community healthcare centres to provide testing supplies and protective equipment such as masks and gowns. They asked for another $150bn directed towards helping state and local governments manage the coronavirus crisis.
They also asked for a 15 percent increase to the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamps benefits, a proposal that could draw Republican opposition.
“The heartbreaking acceleration of the coronavirus crisis demands bold, urgent and ongoing action from Congress to protect Americans’ lives and livelihoods,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “The American people need to know that their government is there for them in their time of great need.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said more money is needed to fund the popular new $350bn Paycheck Protection Program, which took off last Friday but was quickly overrun as companies jumped at the chance to tap up to $1m in forgivable loans to keep paychecks flowing amid the stay-home shutdown.
Mnuchin requested the funds in a private call to Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Democrats largely supported it as a component of a broader new aid package.
McConnell wants to swiftly pass it through Congress this week. The House and the Senate are all but shuttered, and it is unclear how the Democrats’ new request will affect the prospect of holding a vote with just 48 hours notice.
Congress is also racing to craft the next coronavirus rescue package.