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Trump, Congress eye financial relief for businesses, workers hit by coronavirus

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President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the White House
Source: AP Photo

President Donald Trump said he would work with Congress to develop a financial relief package for businesses and U.S. workers, including payroll tax cuts and paid time off for hourly wage earners, to try to stem the economic fallout from outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Trump disclosed he was seeking Congress' help to provide the new economic relief for workers and businesses after another grueling day on Wall Street, in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down over 2,000 points — its worst decline since the 2008 financial crisis.

Trump said he and his White House team plan to meet with congressional Republicans on March 10 to discuss a package that would provide "very substantial relief" to American workers and industries — airlines, cruise lines and hotels — facing economic struggles because of the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

He told reporters he also wants Congress to include loan relief for small businesses in the package.

The total financial relief will be a "big number," Trump said.

Last week, Congress rejected Trump's $2.5 billion emergency funding request to tackle the outbreak — an amount even many Republicans called too low.

"If you lowball something like this, you'll pay for it later," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Feb. 25 about the $2.5 billion.

Lawmakers instead put together and quickly adopted their own bipartisan $8.3 billion package — more than tripling the amount Trump had sought.

A number of Democrats expressed concern that typical Americans were being left out of that funding measure, particularly hourly wage workers.

On March 8, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., outlined a set of proposals that included providing paid sick leave to workers impacted by any COVID-19 quarantine orders or who are responsible for caring for children whose school may be closed because of the outbreak.

Pelosi and Schumer also called for enhanced unemployment insurance benefits for any workers who may lose their jobs from the economic impacts of the coronavirus epidemic.

In addition, the lawmakers said Congress should expand nutrition assistance programs, such as food stamps and school lunches.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced legislation last week that would require U.S. employers to provide workers with 14 days of paid sick leave to be used during a public health emergency, including the current outbreak.

"Everybody is trying to move at warp speed," DeLauro told reporters during a March 9 conference call.

A spokesman for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the senator was "exploring the possibility of targeted tax relief measures that could provide a timely and effective response to the coronavirus."

"Several options within the committee's jurisdiction are being considered as we learn more about the effects on specific industries and the overall economy," Grassley's spokesman Michael Zona said in a statement.

Trump said he would hold a news conference on March 10 after he meets with members of his party to disclose details of the Republican plan.

"This was something that we were thrown into and we're going handle it," Trump said, saying his administration and the world were "blindsided" by the outbreak.

Worldwide, COVID-19 has infected about 114,000 people and killed over 4,000, according to Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

In the U.S., nearly 700 people have been confirmed with COVID-19, with at least 26 dead from the virus.