Senate Approves Coronavirus Package That Injects Hundreds Of Billions More Into Small Business Relief Program

The Senate on Tuesday approved hundreds of billions more in new relief to small businesses, injecting new money into a program that was quickly depleted after companies rushed to secure loans to keep their operations going.

The $484 billion legislation, approved by voice vote, also would provide new funding to hospitals and to funding coronavirus testing.

The bill next goes to the House, which is expected to take it up on Thursday. It provides $321 billion into the Paycheck Protection Program, in which small businesses can access loans that can be converted into grants if they maintain payrolls. The small business program that was included as as part of the last relief package, the CARES Act, quickly ran through its initial $349 billion round of funding.

What is still unclear is whether the legislation will include specific relief provision being sought by local media, including newspapers, radio and TV stations hit hard from a plunge in advertising revenue. Sponsors like auto dealers, mattress stores and even lawyers have held  off on their advertising spending amid mass closures and layoffs.

On Tuesday, as lawmakers considered a $484 billion relief package, a consortium of trade associations representing radio and TV broadcasters and news publishers are seeking a special provision that will open the Paycheck Protection Program to a wider range of media outlets.

The local media outlets want a provision that will make local media outlets eligible for the small business loans even if they are affiliated with a larger entity. Companies with more than 500 employees are exempt from the small business loans, but in the most recent relief package an exception was made for restaurant and hotel chains.

Last week, four lawmakers, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) and Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) sent a letter to Senate leaders in which they wrote that the last relief package “waived the affiliation rule for hotels and restaurants allowing them to benefit from small business assistance, and the same consideration should extend to local news outlets in light of their vital role in maintaining public health.”

“Even though these news outlets may be owned by larger groups, they operate independently,” the wrote.

A similar letter was sent to House leaders by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

In addition, a group of more than 240 lawmakers sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to direct federal agency to spend their advertising dollars — estimated between $5 billion and $10 billion — on local media.

Newspapers have seen their ad revenues drop by up to 50% in the last few months, according to the News Media Alliance, while the National Association of Broadcasters reports that losses have been as much as 90% of ad sales.

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