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Congress Reaches Deal On Expansion Of Emergency Funding


Congress has reached an agreement to add nearly half a trillion - $484 billion to be precise - in additional coronavirus aid. That is on top of more than $2 trillion approved to fight the pandemic last month. Much of the new money is to replenish a small-business loan program. We know that President Trump tweeted earlier today he supports the bill, which is being called an interim step as Congress prepares for yet another round of coronavirus relief. Well, NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is here.

Hey, Kelsey.


KELLY: They were fiddling with this hour by hour through today. Walk us through where they landed, what exactly is in this bill.

SNELL: Yeah, they landed on $322 billion for that Paycheck Protection Program, which is a small-business loan program. That is more than what we heard them discussing even just a few days ago. And $60 billion of that money is allocated to smaller lenders and community financial institutions that Democrats said needed to have more money because they addressed the needs of businesses in underserved areas. There's also $60 billion for disaster grants and loans for small businesses, $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing.

Now, that's a lot of numbers, and I want to take a step back and acknowledge that, as you said, this is nearly half a trillion dollars, and it's being considered a stopgap. Now, that simply does not happen in Congress under normal circumstances. It's also supposed to be approved pretty quickly in this process. And I want to remind people that Congress fought for weeks over the $700 billion bank bailout in 2008 and the $780 billion stimulus in 2009, and those were votes that were used in attack ads for years to come. But they're processing this large amount of money so quickly and with nearly unanimous support. This is a very unprecedented time.

KELLY: Processing it so quickly, as you say, but to turn you back to that money for small business - the Paycheck Protection Program - that money ran out within two weeks. They knew it was going to run out, and yet this bill was stalled for weeks. Why? What's the timing in play here?

SNELL: Well, we're talking about competing politics here. Democrats decided that they wanted to hold out for more, more than just money for small businesses. And it was really a risk that voters would rather see them fighting for priorities, like money for other things, like hospitals and for state and local governments, and they wanted to see them fighting for that rather than just seeing small-business money go through. Republicans said small businesses needed to be the priority. But in the time they were fighting, news started coming out that the small-business money was going to big businesses, and Democrats started to fight harder for those additional controls, like making sure the money went to smaller banks.

KELLY: OK. President Trump, as we mentioned, tweeted he is on board with this deal. He's also saying work will begin soon on the next aid package. The next aid package - I mean...

SNELL: Yeah.

KELLY: ...What is the next bill, Kelsey?

SNELL: Well, President Trump says he wants that money for state and local budget stabilization that didn't get into this package. And he wants infrastructure investments, tax breaks for restaurants and entertainment and some pretty controversial payroll tax cuts. Some of that is bipartisan in theory. But lawmakers aren't super keen on the payroll tax, for example. And Democrats say they're going to push for some more bigger-picture structural changes, like federally mandated worker protections. They think they have leverage in this moment to kind of start remaking the lives of the working class. So we'll see how that all plays out.

KELLY: That is NPR's Kelsey Snell reporting.

Thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.

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