Coronavirus aid deal to pass Senate Tuesday, Schumer says

Top Senate Democrat says a deal has been reached; legislation still being fine-tuned

A stack of newspapers sits outside an office door in the Capitol on Monday.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
A stack of newspapers sits outside an office door in the Capitol on Monday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 21, 2020 at 8:57am, Updated at 11:45am

Democrats and the White House “came to an agreement on just about every issue” during late-night negotiations, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday morning, predicting that the Senate would pass the measure later in the day.

“I think we will be able to pass this today,” Schumer said on CNN. The nearly $500 billion coronavirus relief package features an injection of funds into a new and heavily oversubscribed small-business loan fund that ran out of cash last week, as well as funding for hospitals and a national COVID-19 testing program.

Schumer said the new small-business loan funds would include money set aside for the “unbanked,” which he described as largely minority- and women-owned businesses and rural businesses that don’t have strong relationships with traditional lenders.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., who presided over the House for a brief pro forma session Tuesday morning, said $60 billion would be included for community banks and credit unions focusing on underserved communities.

Butterfield confirmed rough numbers that have been floating around for the past few days, describing a package totaling around $460 billion.

Of that figure $360 billion would be for small-business relief, with most going to the so-called Paycheck Protection Program, which forgives loans for up to two months' eligible expenses. Within that total $50 billion is for a separate Small Business Administration disaster loan program that provides money directly to eligible firms.

Another $100 billion would go towards health care expenses, including $75 billion for hospitals and other providers. The remaining $25 billion would be used to establish a COVID-19 testing program, Butterfield said.

Speaking to reporters later on Tuesday morning, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said the funding to expand testing capacity would be divided evenly between federal agencies and state and local governments.

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While there wouldn't be a new injection of direct aid to state and local governments, Schumer said the emerging legislation would include language to allow more flexibility for an earlier funding round. The $2 trillion package enacted last month contained $150 billion in state and local aid, but with a stipulation that the money could only use used to cover specific coronavirus-related expenses.

Schumer said the new package would let states and localities dip into those earlier funds to cover budget shortfalls. "We did get a commitment from the White House that they would be able to use those funds for lost revenues," he said.

Hoyer said he wasn't sure yet whether a fix for District of Columbia funding would be included, but that he'd been strongly advocating for it. The earlier $150 billion funding round treated the District as a territory, with a smaller slice of the money than states with lower populations such as Wyoming.

The tentative agreement was reached in negotiations between Schumer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The latter two were in contact with President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the details, Schumer said.

“Staff was up all night writing,” Schumer said. “There’s still i’s to dot and t’s to cross, but we have a deal,” said Schumer, adding that he expects the measure would come to a vote in the Senate during a 4 p.m. pro forma session Tuesday.

Hoyer said late Monday that the earliest that chamber would vote on the package is Thursday. Democratic leaders plan to call members back to Washington for a recorded vote due to likely objections to passing the measure by unanimous consent.

Lindsey McPherson and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.