By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent

Congressional Democrats reached an agreement with the Trump administration on an interim coronavirus emergency relief package that provides support and fixes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), as well as increased funding for emergency disaster loans and grants, hospitals, health care providers and testing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), without consulting Democrats, had initially tried to push through a bill that would have increased funding for PPP without providing any critical fixes to the program.

The GOP proposal would have done nothing to aid the most vulnerable small businesses and wouldn’t have provided any additional funding to our health care system or testing.

Thanks to the efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Democrats secured $60 billion in new Small Business Administration PPP funding dedicated to small lenders and community-based financial institutions.

They also secured $50 billion for the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, which will allow approximately $300 billion in loans to small businesses.

Additionally, in large part because of the efforts of the CBC, Democrats secured $10 billion for the SBA’s Emergency Economic Injury Grant program, $75 billion in emergency money for our health system, and $25 billion to increase testing and contact tracing capabilities.

The Senate has passed the legislation. The House gave final passage to the $484 billion package today (Thursday, April 23).

“While this bill does not address all current needs of the coronavirus crisis, it is a major improvement and will help millions of Americans and our frontline workers,” Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), stated on a conference call with the Black Press of America on Tuesday, April 21.

“Under the leadership of CBC Chair Karen Bass, the CBC has been on the frontlines, and without us, there would be no one fighting for our communities,” Beatty stated, adding that the CBC recognizes that more needs to be done. They will continue fighting for additional funding for working families and those who need it most in the next coronavirus package.

“Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) made sure that there was a carve-out in this package for small community banks and credit unions, which ensures that there’s an opportunity for them to take care of their customers,” stated Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY).

“The EIDL program will benefit many small and African American businesses as we move forward,” Meeks said.

Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) said the Trump administration has “proven time and again that we cannot trust them.”

Kelly said the CBC continues to work to make sure that crucial data that includes race is collected during testing and tracing of the pandemic.

“Through this bill, we do target hospitals in some of the most needed areas, and as we focus on CARES part 2, we need data to make the best policy decisions. Lives are at stake, so we need to act quickly,” Kelly stated.

Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA) said the CBC has always understood that Black-owned and other small businesses “are the backbone of America.”

“We have constantly worked together to try and make things happen,” he stated.

“Under Karen Bass’ leadership, we all understood that the CBC was not going to leave our constituents out. It’s not possible to conduct business if people are not healthy and safe,” Evans stated.

A Fight for Our Lives

The CBC held a press conference at 3 p.m. Thursday (April 23) live on Instagram shortly before the House of Representatives was slated to vote on the bill, with members of the Caucus highlighting the provisions they advocated for to support the communities they serve while vowing to continue to fight for for more to Black businesses, Black Americans, poor and rural communities and other marginalized communities.

“We will not be ignored,” said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) during the Thursday press conference. The African-American community will not be ignored. The combination of Black and brown communities will not be ignored.”

Vowing to advocate for another stimulus, CBC members said more funding is still needed to compensate frontline workers, to extend unemployment benefits, for the expansion of supplemental nutrition benefits, to help support non-profits and to help small and minority-owned businesses.

U.S. Rep. G.K Butterfield (D-N.C.) used time during the Thursday press conference to reiterate the importance of testing reaching disproportionately impacted communities, including federally recognized community health centers.

“(That $25 billion) must get in the hands of providers to test underserved and rural communities,” Rep. G.K Butterfield, adding that the funding was the result of CBC efforts.

“We are at war for our lives–our physical lives–and our economic security,” said U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.). “If we don’t test and use mobile testing we will never eradicate the effect of this disease on our community.”

The New Orleans Tribune contributed to this report.

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