US Senate approves $484bn funding for small businesses, hospitals

The United States Senate on Tuesday approved legislation worth $484bn to provide funding for a small business jobs programme, hospitals overrun by the coronavirus outbreak, and a national testing impetus to help tamp down the pandemic.

The Senate bill, agreed to in advance by the White House, allocates $25bn for a testing strategy that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats insisted was key to reopening the US economy. The bill calls on the Trump administration to define a strategy to provide nationwide testing and report on that plan to Congress.

The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent and will now advance to the House of Representatives, which is expected to vote on it as soon as Thursday.

“There is a world economic contraction because of the virus and you are seeing demand just plunge,” Larry Kudlow, an economic adviser to US President Donald Trump, told reporters at the White House. “There is some deflation in the air.”

The emergency spending package adds approximately $320bn to a programme designed to help small businesses keep employees on their payrolls until the US economy can be reopened again. The money is in addition to the $350bn approved by Congress in March for small businesses under the so-called Paycheck Protection Program, which was quickly exhausted by overwhelming demand.

A portion of the new funding – $60bn – would be directed through community lenders to under-banked neighbourhoods and rural areas.

More than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs since the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to shut down – the biggest job loss since the Great Depression between 1929 and 1933.

The bill includes $75bn for hospitals hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic and $60bn for economic disaster assistance, as well as $11bn for states, according to a summary of the legislation.

The testing funds will be directed to “a national strategic testing policy that will focus on increasing testing capacity including testing supplies,” Pelosi and Senator Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.

The availability of coronavirus testing has been a point of contention between the White House and state governors grappling with the pandemic.

More than four million tests have been administered in the US to date, with some 814,000 cases of COVID-19 – the disease caused by the novel coronavirus – thus far identified, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 44,000 Americans have died from the disease.