Trump administration seeks US$250 bil more in aid for small U.S. businesses —Mnuchin

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WASHINGTON (April 7): The Trump administration on Tuesday asked Congress for an additional US$250 billion in emergency economic aid for small U.S. businesses reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed for passage as soon as Thursday.

In a posting on Twitter, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he had consulted with congressional leaders on the need for the second round of funding.

If approved by Congress, the aid would add to the US$349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses enacted on March 27, as part of a US$2.3 trillion economic stimulus in response to the virus outbreak.

Shortly before Mnuchin's announcement, McConnell, a Republican, said in a statement: "It is quickly becoming clear that Congress will need to provide more funding or this crucial program may run dry."

He added that he would work with Mnuchin and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on the initiative with the goal of winning Senate approval on Thursday.

It was not immediately clear whether the top two Democrats in Congress, Schumer and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, would embrace this timetable, as they have been pushing for a broader set of measures that would comprise a fourth coronavirus-response bill since early March.

Mnuchin in recent days has been hinting at the need for Washington to provide additional aid to small businesses on the heels of the historic US$2.3 trillion economic stimulus program.

Action this week by the Senate would highlight the depth of the crisis for small enterprises that have been shuttered because of the coronavirus outbreak.

McConnell's backing also marked a change in attitude. He warned in an April 1 interview with the Washington Post that Pelosi should not undertake a "premature" fourth stimulus bill related to the pandemic.

But just days into the opening of the small business loans, with coronavirus cases raging in many parts of the United States, pressure built for more aid.

"There is a critical need to supplement the (loan) fund to ensure America’s more than 30 million small businesses will be able to access this critical lifeline," Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio said in a statement.

Restaurants and hotels are among businesses hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak, with many of them shuttered.

The loan program aims to encourage small enterprises to keep their employees on staff and to help them pay rent, mortgages, utilities and other overhead costs.

Pelosi on Monday consulted with rank-and-file members of her Democratic majority about House committees working on a bill that could top US$1 trillion to augment the US$2.3 trillion measure enacted last month.

With McConnell's announcement of a separate vote on small business aid, it was not yet clear whether the Democratic-controlled House would follow suit and quickly approve that as a standalone measure.

In an interview on CNN, Pelosi said there would have to be "certain considerations" ensuring the program benefits all who qualify for additional money for small businesses to advance.

Some small restaurant operators have already voiced concerns that the loan program was structured so that large companies and large franchisees could unfairly qualify for the help.