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Congress will have to put more money into the Paycheck Protection Program, which already has committed $349 billion to help small businesses keep employees on the payroll, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst said Thursday.
The program ran out of money Thursday morning, making it the first of those included in the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to be tapped out.
'I think everybody was surprised” at how quickly the money was distributed, Grassley said. 'I'm sure that everybody thought, ‘$350 billion, heck, that's a lot of money. So we were surprised. The first week, we knew it wasn't going to be enough.”
The Republican U.S. senators from Iowa support adding another $250 billion to the program.
Helping small businesses took on added importance with the announcement that another 5.2 million people filed for unemployment benefits over the past week, Grassley said.
'So we're going to need more money,” Grassley said during his weekly conference call with reporters.
In addition to the Paycheck Protection Program, Grassley expects Congress will need to appropriate more funds for state and locals governments that have seen their sale tax and income tax revenues plummet. Hospitals also will need more funds at some point, he said.
Also noting the mounting financial pressures facing health care providers, Ernst is proposing county-owned hospitals be made eligible to receive the relief provided in the Paycheck Protection Program just like small businesses.
'This will allow them to keep their staff on payroll and continue to serve our communities,” Ernst said.
Both the senators say they are frustrated that Democrats last week blocked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's attempt to add the $250 billion through unanimous consent.
Democrats were seeking to add $150 billion for the states and $100 billion for hospitals.
'This could have been avoided,” Ernst said. 'Unfortunately, politics got in the way.”
Ernst said the failed Republican push for $250 billion was 'a simple measure that would have bolstered the program - no political gimmicks, just a simple ask to put more money in this program.”
Grassley called Democrats' refusal to go along with the infusion of funds 'illegitimate.”
'We know there is a need for $250 billion and it could be appropriated in two minutes in the Senate and two minutes in the House if there wasn't any objection,” Grassley said. 'The path forward is not very clear at this point.”
Ernst sounded more optimistic. 'We'll go back to the drawing board,” she said. 'More of our Democratic colleagues are feeling the pressure to get this done as well. So I think we've got a little bit of a bipartisan movement going here to get the PPP refunded as quickly as possible.”