House to Vote on $500 Billion Stimulus Bill Today

"It will help small businesses, it will help hospitals"

Tom Puckett
April 23, 2020 - 4:00 am
Capitol Hill

AP Photo

Buffalo, NY (WBEN)  From all corners of the country, The House is reassembling to send President Donald Trump a fourth bipartisan bill to help businesses crippled by the coronavirus, an almost $500 billion measure that many lawmakers are already looking beyond.

From Western New York, Congressmen Brian Higgins and Tom Reed have made their way to DC for the important vote.

The House is expected to vote today and this won't be the last, as lawmakers anticipate another bill next month.

The bill at hand is expected to replenish the Paycheck Protection Plan and provide funding for hospitals to test for COVID19.

"It will help small businesses, it will help hospitals, and it will help state and local governments," said Brian Higgins Sunday on Hardline.

But Wednesday, Higgins expressed his disappointment over the lack of funding for governments. “I hear from county leaders, mayors, supervisors and other municipal officials every day about the challenges local governments face. Democrats fought hard to include funding for local governments and school districts in this bill, because of the critical services they provide to the public like police, fire, teachers, utility workers and others on the front lines. It is shameful that this bill does not provide these additional resources right now, but we will continue to fight in future legislation to secure this funding. Our local communities desperately need it,” says Higgins.

Higgins says COVID19 is the great equalizer. "Everybody has been adversely impacted financially, so we have to make sure each package we do is inclusive of many people, and my hope is the new normal should be a more equitable and more healthy America," says Higgins. 

Congressman Tom Reed says stimulus bills are pushing $3 trillion, but stage three will not be the end. "Phase four is going to be a significant amount of recovery dollars, in regards to where do we stand on aid to local governments, making sure our local coffers are stabilized because this is impacting $22 trillion of the US economy, and cash flow has evaporated from 1,000 mph to zero. The ripple effect is huge," says Reed.

Reed plans on introducing a bill for the next stimulus package to benefit those on the frontlines working in essential jobs.

"Those workers like our healthcare heroes who have worked the entire time. Right now, unemployment with that $600 for folks who rightfully need that assistance, but it also sends a message you can make more on unemployment than continuing to receive a check, and that's not right," explains Reed. "I'm a firm believer if we're going to do another round of economic stimulus, let's prioritize and give it to the workers who have stood on the frontline the entire time. Those who have started and stayed in their work position from the day the national emergency was declared going forward, we'll give them a bonus for all that hard work."

When will the next stimulus bill come? "We'll have to let the dust settle and see where we stand, but I anticipate the middle of May for phase four, and we'll learn a lot more then" about funding for New York to deal with COVID19. Rep. Reed says that will depend on how much of the economy reopens, and that will bode an indication of what New York will need. 

The bill started two weeks ago as a simple Trump-sought $250 billion replenishment of the oversubscribed payroll subsidy program and grew from there. The payroll program provides forgivable loans so businesses can continue paying workers while forced to stay closed for social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

It also contains $100 billion demanded by Democrats for hospitals and a nationwide testing program, along with a $60 billion set-aside for small banks and an alternative network of community development banks that focus on development in urban neighborhoods and rural areas ignored by many lenders. There's also $60 billion for small-business loans and grants delivered through the Small Business Administration's existing disaster aid program.

Republicans say the delays likely forced some businesses waiting for the payroll subsidies to close. But they are nonetheless sure to back the measure by a wide margin.

The legislation swept through the Senate on Tuesday by voice vote barely hours after being first circulated.

The House, however, will conduct a roll-call vote in which lawmakers will vote in turns taken under social distancing rules. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has also orchestrated a vote to establish a select panel to provide oversight of the government's efforts to battle the coronavirus, a move decried by Republicans as playing politics with the crisis.

Supporters of the Paycheck Protection Program warn that this week’s refill may only last a few days, likely putting business groups back at Washington’s doorstep, along with the nation’s governors and the cash-strapped Postal Service.

Pelosi said in an interview Wednesday on Bloomberg Television that more funding for state and local governments — there’s already $150 billion allocated in last month’s $2 trillion coronavirus package — means support for “the health care worker, the police and fire, the first responders, the emergency services people, the teachers in our schools, the transportation workers who get vital, essential workers to work.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., meanwhile, is testing the brakes. After Tuesday’s Senate vote, McConnell said there will be a lengthy Senate debate on the next package before billions more in spending will move through his chamber.

“We’re going to take a pause here, we’re going to wait ... and clearly weigh before we provide assistance to states and local governments," McConnell said Wednesday on Fox News. “Before we make that decision, we’re going to weigh the impact of what we’ve already added to the national debt and make sure that if we provide additional assistance for state and local governments, it’s only for coronavirus-related matters."

Trump has said he supports including fiscal relief for state and local government in another virus aid package along with infrastructure projects.

It’s not clear how soon the next bill can advance. There’s also the question of when Pelosi and McConnell feel comfortable reopening Capitol Hill, though Trump has signaled he wants discussions to begin as soon as Congress finishes the current legislation. The Senate is scheduled to return May 4.

Launched just weeks ago, the Paycheck Protection Program quickly reached its lending limit after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. That left thousands of small businesses in limbo as they sought help.

Among the targets for the next bill is the Postal Service, which has more than 600,000 workers, mostly covered under union-negotiated contracts, but is hamstrung financially by COVID-19-related revenue losses and pension-funding requirements.

Comments ()