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President Trump's chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow urged Congress on Friday to pass the next round of coronavirus emergency aid, one day after a $349 billion loan program for small businesses ran out of money.
Republicans want to approve an additional $250 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans at ultra-low interest rates to businesses with fewer than 500 employees to incentivize them to keep staff on payroll, but Democrats have blocked the measure, calling for changes to the program as well as more funding for hospitals and state and local governments.
If at least 75 percent of the money goes to keep employees on the payroll, the federal government will forgive the loans.
“Come on, 13.5 percent of the workforce is unemployed," Kudlow said during an interview on "Fox & Friends." "It’s not because of what they’ve done, it’s not because of bad business decisions, it’s not because workers are slacking off. They’re not. It’s because of the coronavirus. So what is the Congress waiting for? Let’s get going. This thing should be done in a couple of hours and a voice vote today.”
Lawmakers from both houses are working from their home states as a result of the outbreak and are unlikely to return to Washington, D.C. until at least early May. But in public comments on Thursday, neither party leader signaled they would concede ground on the next aid package.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters that Congress could include additional funding for hospitals and state and local governments in later legislation, urging approval for the small-business funds immediately.
The evaporation of the program's funds comes at a critical time: New figures released by the Labor Department on Thursday revealed that in the four-week period through April 11, 22 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits, a stunning sign of the colossal economic damage inflicted by the virus outbreak. Before the pandemic, the largest number of Americans to seek jobless aid in a four-week stretch was 2.7 million in the fall of 1982.
"I don’t have much hair up here. If I did, I’d be scratching my hair," Kudlow said. "I can’t imagine why Congress isn’t replenishing this small loan program. It’s absolutely fantastic. Now’s the time."
The small-business program has seen strong demand since launching two weeks ago, approving 1,611,397 loans that depleted the fund. On Thursday, the Small Business Administration said it was no longer accepting applications.