Democrats want bigger coronavirus appropriation in Senate bill

Minority party calls for more aid to hospitals

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow says the aid for hospitals in the GOP’s economic stimulus package falls short.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow says the aid for hospitals in the GOP’s economic stimulus package falls short. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 22, 2020 at 5:15pm

Senate Republicans have proposed a $242 billion appropriations package as part of the massive economic stimulus bill aimed at mobilizing federal agencies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Negotiations over that are ongoing, however, as Democrats say the package falls short of what is needed.

Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said Sunday the appropriations portion of the legislation is “likely to” get bigger.

A House Democratic aide, not authorized to speak publicly about ongoing negotiations, called the bill “a Senate Republican wish list,” adding that Democrats “are continuing to negotiate in good faith on a package that matches the scale of the challenge facing our country.”

Nevertheless, the proposal incorporates some of the priorities sought by Democrats and is five times the size of a $45.8 billion supplemental appropriation the White House Office of Management and Budget requested last week.

Republicans said more than three-fourths of the funds would go to state and local governments.

The largest portion of the funding in the Senate GOP plan, $75 billion, would go to reimburse hospitals and health care providers for COVID-19 related expenses and lost revenue.

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Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the aid to hospitals in the bill is less than Democrats want. “We have to have the health care piece large enough to help our hospitals, and what we’ve seen so far is not,” she said.

Another $3.5 billion is set aside for development, manufacturing and purchase of vaccines and treatments for the virus.

Overall, the Department of Health and Human Services would receive almost $99 billion, with $4.5 billion of that directed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for funding to state and local public health providers, nationwide surveillance of the pandemic, diagnostics and laboratory support.

Some $31 billion would go to the Department of Transportation, with $10 billion to maintain operations at airports, $20 billion in Federal Transit Administration public transit infrastructure grants for state and local governments, and $1 billion to Amtrak to cover revenue losses related to the virus.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would get an additional $15.5 billion in anticipation of more people claiming the benefit due to the virus. The agriculture portion of the bill also would provide $9 billion in new funding for food purchases for child nutrition programs in schools.

Democrats, however, criticized the food stamp provision, saying while the funds would accommodate new enrollees, the proposal would not raise the individual level of benefits above the current level.

The proposal includes $19.7 billion for veterans, with almost all of that directed to increased demand for veterans' health care including purchase of medical equipment and supplies, testing kits and increased use of telework and information technology.

The Defense Department would get almost $12 billion, with $2.5 billion to mitigate the effect of the virus on production lines and supply chains, and around $5 billion for medical care and other health-related initiatives.