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Senate poised to consider $250B business loan bill

Updated April 8, 2020 - 6:07 pm

WASHINGTON — The Senate is poised to take up an interim relief bill Thursday that adds $250 billion in loans for small businesses sought by the Trump administration, while Democrats want more food for low-income families as well as funds for hospitals, states and cities.

Negotiations among Republicans, Democrats and the White House continued Wednesday, seeking compromise that would allow bipartisan passage of the bill on a voice vote.

Despite a bungled rollout of the $2.2 trillion relief bill, with businesses complaining about the process to receive loans, the Paycheck Protection Program administered by the Small Business Administration has become so hugely popular that additional funds are needed.

Part of the relief package passed by Congress earlier contained $350 billion for the program and other assistance for small businesses.

The White House requested more funds to meet demand.

Some gaming business excluded

In Nevada, some small businesses that derive income from gaming were ineligible for the funds.

The entire state congressional delegation sent a letter drafted by Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., to congressional leaders seeking a change in the program that would allow small businesses with gaming to apply for the funds.

In addition, Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., fired off a letter to Jovita Carranza, administrator of the Small Business Administration, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urging new guidelines be established to include those businesses.

“This bipartisan issue deeply affects Nevada and many states throughout the country that depend on the revenue and jobs created by the gaming industry,” the delegation wrote. “We ask that you provide much needed relief for Nevada small gaming businesses as soon as possible.”

The letter was signed by Rosen, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Rep. Dina Titus, Rep. Steven Horsford and Lee, all Democrats, and Republican Rep. Mark Amodei.

In her letter, Lee said that “in Nevada, gaming is not confined to multi-billion mega resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.”

“Local restaurants and bars often rely on a handful of video poker machines to make their businesses keep functioning,” said Lee, whose congressional district includes Henderson and Boulder City.

Titus, co-chair of the Congressional Gaming Caucus, wrote the SBA in March warning that “small employers must not be excluded from participating in the Paycheck Projection Program or accessing small business loans.”

“The entire travel and tourism industry — and the millions of people whose jobs depend on it — are hurting right now and they all should get relief,” Titus said.

The delegation wants the changes to include small businesses with gaming included in the interim bill, or in a new stimulus bill expected to be written and acted on when Congress returns.

President Donald Trump, speaking at his daily coronavirus briefing, said he was unaware that smaller gaming businesses couldn’t benefit from the CARES Act but promised to look into the matter.

“Nobody told me about it, but I’ll look into it,” Trump said in response to a question from the Review-Journal.

More money for paychecks

Mnunchin has asked Congress to add more funds to the pool as banks struggle with disbursing loans to small businesses through the Payroll Protection Program, which provides assistance to keep workers employed and businesses solvent during the coronavirus pandemic.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would work with Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to “approve further funding for the Paycheck Protection Program by unanimous consent or voice vote during the next scheduled Senate session on Thursday.

Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are not opposed to adding additional funds to the program, but the Democratic leaders also want an additional $100 billion for hospitals, $150 billion for states and cities, and a 15 percent increase in food programs for low-income families.

Cortez Masto is pushing for more money for hospitals, cities and states that employ first responders and need equipment as the coronavirus continues to claim victims.

But those demands from Democrats left in doubt whether the bill would have bipartisan consensus Thursday morning, when the Senate will gavel in for a pro-forma session where leaders could hold a voice vote to pass the bill.

Any objection would likely delay a vote.

After the interim bill is passed, Pelosi said Congress would begin writing a fourth stimulus package to address other shortfalls and provide assistance to people facing public health and financial needs.

“The American people need to know that their government is there for them in their time of great need,” Pelosi said.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter. Review-Journal White House Correspondent Debra J. Saunders contributed to this story.

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