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Small businesses languish amid aid package debate

Congressional leaders and White House officials say an additional $400 billion to aid businesses, hospitals and communities could be approved as soon as this week, as the coronavirus continues to shut down much of the country’s economy. NewsHour Correspondent Lisa Desjardins joins Hari Sreenivasan for more on the debate over the latest relief package and what it means for small businesses.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Joining us now is PBS NewsHour's Lisa Desjardins. Lisa, so what were the big sticking points in this second round of funding?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is a very unusual disagreement, Hari. Nearly everyone agrees that this program needs to be expanded and needs to be expanded quickly. Both this Paycheck Protection Program and the smaller Disaster Relief Program. But the question was, what else should be expanded now? Democrats felt that, and they've been pushing for more money for states and more money for hospitals. We are told, I'm told by people involved that, in fact, Republicans have agreed to more money for hospitals. But the issue of states, it looks like will be punted to another time.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    There was also a question after the first round of funds came out on how those funds were distributed around the country, who had access to it, who really just got more and who got less? What are they trying to do this time to fix that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This was a key point for Democrats as well, not just how much money or how quickly it goes out, but where it goes. They pointed out that the vast majority of the funds or the vast majority of small businesses are single owner businesses, sole proprietorships. But that's not where the funding went. Most of the funding went to the larger of the small businesses. And in fact, Reuters did an examination of all the data we have so far found out that a quarter of all of this money went to basically 2 percent of the businesses. So what Democrats have said is more of this money needs to be specifically targeted to small businesses. Businesses maybe with under 10 employees as well as more money needs to be given to community banks, which are not usually part of such a huge lending program, but which are the lifeblood for a lot of these small, especially rural banks. And they also say minority banks may have been left out as well. So they want targeted money to make sure that all parts of their country are getting this.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We probably all have and know small businesses, mom and pop places that are really struggling right now to get in line for their funds. And also they realize that the chain restaurant down the road got access to it. You know, one of the other concerns that people had is how do we protect this from being, well, stuffed with pork for special favors, depending on which senator or which member of Congress wrote it in.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It is an unusual program in that it's being administered entirely by the Small Business Administration. So it's not the case where they can hand out money to a specific business, not this program in particular for small businesses. But it does look like some states have been able to get more money than others. That could be a result of how good their relationship is with the SBA or how good their lending program is in that state. So it's something we're going to watch carefully. Is a senator able to make a phone call to help out a constituent? we don't know yet. It's something we're going to watch. I think the biggest question right now is the next, for the next week is there are probably 10, maybe 20 million small businesses waiting in line for this money. Don't know if they're going to get it. And the question is, how quickly can they get it? Those who have been approved? Not all of them have seen the money yet. So there are a lot of businesses in limbo on either side of this program. There could be more help coming as soon as a few days from now if Congress acts as quickly as possible. But there will still be a lot of questions.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Does Congress think this is the last time they have to do this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    No, it doesn't look like it. This program, they're hoping that they're going going to be close with another $300 billion or so, that that will be about enough to get through the next two months. But as you've been reporting, we don't know how long this is going to last. That's just the small business portion. Then there are corporations with huge numbers of employees. Also not clear how much money they're going to need for the long run. And then there are those who've already been unemployed. So no, Hari. I think everyone knows a lot more money is going to be needed. It's not clear how much and it's not clear when.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    PBS NewsHour's Lisa Desjardins, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    My pleasure.

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