WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration and Congress are nearing an agreement as early as Sunday on an aid package of up to $450 billion to boost a small-business loan program that has run out of money and add funds for hospitals and COVID-19 testing.
With small-business owners reeling during a coronavirus outbreak that has shuttered much economic activity, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he was hopeful of a deal that could pass Congress quickly and get the Small Business Administration program back up by midweek.
“I think we’re very close to a deal today. I’m hopeful that we can get that done,” he said.
On a conference call Sunday afternoon that included President Donald Trump, Mnuchin and Republican senators, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., indicated the only remaining item for discussion involved the money for testing, according to a Senate GOP leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private call.
Under the proposed deal, the government’s Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses would get roughly $300 billion, according to Mnuchin. The program has been swamped by businesses applying for loans and reached its appropriations limit last Thursday after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. That left thousands of small businesses in limbo as they sought help. An additional $50 billion in the evolving deal would go for disaster loans.
About $75 billion would go to U.S. hospitals, for those straining under a ballooning coronavirus caseload as well as those struggling to stay financially afloat after suspending elective surgeries during the pandemic. About $25 billion would be added for COVID-19 testing, something states have said was urgently needed. The money for hospitals and testing were priorities sought by congressional Democrats.
Additional aid to state and local governments would be left out, Mnuchin said.
“The president is willing to consider that in the next bill, but wants to get this over the finish line with a focus on small businesses, hospitals and testing,” Mnuchin said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., predicted an agreement would be reached “soon.”
“I am pleased to report that we have been engaged in bipartisan negotiations on our interim legislation, and our progress is encouraging,” she said in a letter late Saturday to Democratic colleagues.
Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who leads the National Governors’ Association, said he and other governors believe that aid for state and local government is “desperately needed,” but that it may not be an issue worth fighting over for now.
“I don’t think the deal is finalized yet,” he said. “But, look, we do not want to hold up funding to these small businesses. And we hope that the Democrats and the Republicans in the Senate can come together in a bipartisan way and get something moving for the American people.”
The SBA loans, based on a company’s payroll costs, offer owners forgiveness if they retain workers or rehire those who have been laid off. The law provides for forgiveness for companies in any industry — even businesses like hedge funds and law firms. There’s a limit of $100,000 on the amount of employees’ compensation that can be considered when loan forgiveness is calculated.
While they wait, owners who are shut down or who’ve lost revenue have expressed unease about the longer-term impact the virus outbreak will have on their companies.
“There’s great pain out there,” said Suzanne Clark, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Every hour and day that goes by without this assistance is really hurting them.”
Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.