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Senate Republicans fail to advance limited COVID-19 aid package

Additional $20 billion for agricultural producers included in scaled-back Republican coronavirus assistance.

This week, Senate Republicans unveiled their proposed $500 billion "targeted" COVID-19 relief package. The targeted bill, also known as the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools & Small Businesses Act, was unable to garner the 60 votes needed to advance Thursday, failing in a 52-47 vote.

In what has become a political standoff between House Democrats and Senate Republicans, each camp has gone on the record with their policy wishes for the fourth round of COVID-19 assistance. The bill is substantially less than the nearly $3 trillion Health & Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act package advanced by House Democrats last May and also less than the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection & Schools (HEALS) Act package from Senate Republicans in July. It is widely considered a marker bill that could form the basis for further negotiation with the Democrats in the House.

When it comes to agriculture, the latest bill would have provided $20 billion of additional farm assistance. Dairy, poultry, livestock, specialty and non-specialty crop producers are among the farmers and ranchers who stand to benefit from the extra assistance. It also provides $500 million of direct federal assistance to all manner of fishers, fishery participants and communities that have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill also provided $257 billion for a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with reforms to require that new applications show revenue loss and maintain loan documents consistent with Internal Revenue Service requirements. It provides additional resources for audits.

Specifically, it would allow small businesses (including self-employed individuals, sole proprietors and independent contractors) that (1) meet the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) revenue size standard, if applicable, (2) have 300 or fewer employees and (3) demonstrate at least a 35% reduction in gross revenue in a 2020 quarter relative to the same 2019 quarter to receive a second PPP loan.

Second PPP loans will be equal to 2.5X average monthly payroll costs, with a maximum loan value of $2 million. The uses of these loans will be subject to existing regulations implemented by SBA and the U.S. Department of Treasury, with eligible uses expanded to cover certain worker protective, supplier and operational expenses.

It also simplifies the forgiveness application process for current and future PPP borrowers receiving loans of $150,000 or less and includes reforms to require new applications show revenue loss and retain business documents. It provides $50 million in additional resources for audits using existing PPP funding.

The question remains whether will there be a renewed appetite from both sides of the aisle to come together to advance their priorities in the weeks ahead. For now, it looks like more politics as usual, with finger pointing and delay tactics.

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