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What’s in the latest congressional pandemic relief package — and what’s not

More help is on the way for American small businesses. The House approved a $484 billion measure aimed specifically at aiding smaller employers and hospitals Thursday. It comes as another 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment. Meanwhile, a New York study finds much greater levels of COVID-19 than lab tests have confirmed. John Yang reports and Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congress is sending another big batch of aid to those hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    It comes as millions more Americans have joined the jobless rolls and as the death toll in the U.S. has climbed past 47,000.

    John Yang begins our coverage.

  • John Yang:

    More help is on the way to American small businesses. Today, the House gave final congressional approval to a $484 billion package aimed at smaller employers and hospitals, sending it to President Trump for his signature.

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it comes at a heart-wrenching time.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Millions out of work. This is really a very, very, very sad day. We come to the floor with nearly 50,000 deaths, a huge number of people impacted, and the uncertainty of it all.

  • John Yang:

    Hours before the House vote, the Labor Department reported that another 4.4 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week. That brings the total for the last five weeks to more than 26 million.

    At a House Small Business Committee hearing, with members wearing protective masks and gloves, Democrats said many small employers still desperately need loans from the federal Payroll Protection Program, which the new legislation replenishes.

    Tom Malinowski of New Jersey:

  • Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J.:

    I have been in close touch with small business owners in my district, and it is difficult to accurately capture the level of fear, frustration and uncertainty that they are feeling right now.

  • John Yang:

    Some Republicans argued, the only real help for businesses is reopening the economy.

    Dan Bishop of North Carolina:

  • Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C.:

    My biggest observation is that the federal government cannot provide sufficient relief to substitute for a free and open economy.

  • John Yang:

    Montana and Oklahoma have now joined the growing list of states setting dates for easing restrictions. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said she would likely extend the stay-at-home order beyond April 30 in her state, where nearly 1.2 million people have filed for unemployment since mid-March.

    But she told MSNBC today she may reconsider if new infections continue to trend downward,

  • Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

    It will permit some activity, if our numbers continue to go down and our testing continues to go up. But it's too early to say precisely what each wave looks like and when it happens.

  • John Yang:

    Whitmer also criticized U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for suggesting some states may have to consider bankruptcy, this as The New York Times reports that modeling from Northeastern University shows major cities like Chicago and Boston likely had extensive outbreaks of the virus earlier than previously known.

    Health officials in New York City said today as many as a million people may have been exposed to the virus.

    Meanwhile, last night, President Trump downplayed the possibility the virus would return in the year and insisted there wouldn't be another national lockdown.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We will not go through what we went through for the last two months.

  • John Yang:

    But his top health officials said Americans should be prepared for a resurgence of the virus, and suggested restrictions may again be necessary.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that. Whether or not it's going to be big or small is going to depend on our response.

  • John Yang:

    Today, lawyers for Dr. Rick Bright, who was ousted this week as head of the Department of Health and Human Services' office seeking a coronavirus vaccine, said they would while a whistle-blower complaint.

    Bright said he's being punished for questioning an anti-malaria drug President Trump touted as treatment. HHS confirmed his job transfer, but didn't offer a reason.

    Overseas, the European Union held a virtual summit today to discuss aid proposals for the continent that could top a trillion dollars. All this comes as the virus disrupts yet another major religious observance. Mosques in much of the world will be closed, as Muslims prepare for Ramadan.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To walk us through the details of Congress' latest rescue package, I'm joined by our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins.

    So, Lisa, remind us, what exactly is in this latest bill?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, this is an extension of the CARES Act, but, on its own, this bill is one of the largest recovery bills passed in modern history just on its own.

    So let's go over the nearly half-a-trillion dollars of spending in it to remind viewers again. The biggest item is for small business, total of $380 billion. That's between that Paycheck Protection Program to keep payrolls going.

    And then, also, there's money in there for some disaster loans that also ran out of money for small businesses. Also in this is some money specifically for smallest — the smallest banks in this country. In addition, there's $75 billion for hospitals and health care providers and $25 billion for testing.

    Judy, this money, we expect, to move through Congress quickly. In fact, it's an overwhelming vote as I speak to you right now. And the president is expected to sign rather quickly, as soon as he can.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So it's clear, from what you're saying, Lisa, a lot of this money, some of this money goes to the so-called Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses.

    Does it address what we have learned in the last few days, these revelations about a chunk of that money up until now has gone to big businesses, businesses on solid ground?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    No, Judy, this money really just expands programs that were already in place.

    Congress has not legislated on this idea, as we have seen in the past few days, that some companies that are publicly traded, multimillion-dollar companies, especially some restaurants, including Shake Shack, were able to get millions of dollars in loans through this program that's meant for small businesses.

    Today, there is reporting from The Wall Street Journal that the Department of Treasury is asking those businesses to give that money back and trying to find a way to make sure that large businesses like this don't get any more of this money.

    Also, Judy, you have to say something else that's not in this bill, a few things that Democrats were trying to fight for in this that they were not able to get, at the top of that list, there is not help for states and cities, additional help, in this. There's also not money for additional food aid or for food stamps known as SNAP, and more specific rural aid.

    That crosses aisles, including rural broadband, is something we might hear about in the next sort of debate about what Congress does after this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, as you were saying, this was a vote of the full House. And yet we're in the middle of a pandemic. We're in the middle of social distancing.

    How did they have this vote?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The full House has not been here for over a month, but they did take this as a full vote.

    In fact, just 40 or so members were not in attendance today. And it was extraordinary, Judy. Just about three weeks ago, only four members of the House were wearing masks, today, hundreds of members, almost every member wearing a mask in the chamber.

    The way they did it, Judy, was in ABC order, asking representatives to come just in by the alphabet.

    Now, look, this is video of a committee hearing earlier today that John mentioned. This is what we have seen all over the Capitol. We have seen staffers having to quickly clean up as members leave their seats and return.

    Look at those staffers from the Small Business Committee off to the side doing their job. That's what's been happening in that committee room.

    And in the Capitol, in the House chamber itself, Judy, I saw about a dozen staffers take eight minutes to quickly clean the whole chamber as members came and went.

    Something extraordinary to think about, Judy, this meeting of the House today had roughly 400 people in it, and the press of well,. This may have been the largest gathering of any kind in the country right now because of the orders we're under.

    So it really was something that was extraordinary and needed a lot of precautions to it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No question, something we thought we'd never see.

    Separately and finally, Lisa, some news I want to ask you about from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, what he is saying needs to happen next and what he's saying about where the states are.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yesterday, Senator McConnell was on the Hugh Hewitt radio program, and the two men were discussing states and city aid.

    And Senator McConnell and Republicans have a concern that states may have had some fiscal problems before this crisis, that they don't — he doesn't want to be bailing out, in his words, states that had problems, say, with their pensions before this started.

    But he said this to Hugh Hewitt on the idea of whether states should be able to be — go into bankruptcy. He said: "I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route. My guess is, their first choice would be to — for the federal government to borrow money from future generations. That's not something I'm going to be in favor of."

    The implication to some people, including some Republicans like Peter King of New York, is that Senator McConnell wouldn't use federal money to help states, and that he's encouraging them to go bankrupt instead.

    Speaking to a senior Republican aide in the Senate, they said, no, Senator McConnell just wants the option of bankruptcy for these states. He's not telling them what to do. But he is concerned about the rising debt.

    And, moreover, Judy, what McConnell's saying is, he wants to take a break before any more spending. Not everyone agrees with that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins reporting on everything today at the Capitol.

    Thank you, Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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