CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As federal legislators and officials continue negotiations on a fifth coronavirus relief package, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said lawmakers should focus on ensuring money is dedicated to people and businesses most in need of assistance.
Republican leaders and members of the Trump administration continue discussions about their proposal, which will likely include additional funding for businesses to retain workers and $105 billion for schools to reopen amid the pandemic. The measure could cost at least $1 trillion.
Manchin, speaking to reporters Wednesday, said $2 trillion of the $3.5 trillion that lawmakers have already appropriated has been spent.
“I think some of that money, at least half of it, can be redirected to be more effective than what we used it for so far,” he said.
Manchin mentioned a $500 billion loan program for corporations; the senator said businesses have not fully utilized the fund, which was created as part of the CARES Act. Manchin argued the money could be repurposed to help people and small businesses.
“The new money that will be put into it will be the $1 trillion range. Could be $1.5 trillion,” the senator said of a new bill. “Added to what they could redirect, you could have a $2 trillion package by redirecting money that hasn’t be used yet.”
Manchin favors extending the additional unemployment payments, but there should not be a nationwide amount of $600 a week.
“$600 in rural America and rural West Virginia is sometimes more than what they make when they work on a weekly basis,” he said. “If you lost your job because you had to shut down your business and because of the health care crisis, then we should keep you whole. If your paycheck was $500 a week, we should pay you $500 a week until the markets open back up, we get a vaccine and people go back to normal.”
Manchin also said Wednesday he opposes providing individuals with another $1,200 payment, adding payments should be provided to people whose incomes have been affected by the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of people who never lost their job and never lost a paycheck at all,” he said.
The U.S. House of Representatives in May passed the HEROES Act; the legislation would dedicate $3.4 trillion for additional $1,200 payments to taxpayers and financial assistance to local and state governments. The measure would also expand unemployment compensation, extend a hold on some evictions and foreclosures, and provide funding for a nationwide coronavirus testing and contact tracing initiative.
“It will not be a $3 trillion deal in new money,” Manchin said of a Senate bill. “It could be a combination of new money and money that hasn’t been sent out the door yet if we can find better ways of effectively using it. That’s what I think there is more of an appetite for.”
The House of Representatives has votes scheduled through July 31, while the Senate is scheduled to remain in session through Aug. 7. Manchin said he is confident lawmakers will reach a deal before August begins.