U.S. seeks $250 billion more in aid for small businesses: Mnuchin

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday he is requesting 250 billion U.S. dollars from Congress to boost a new lending program for small businesses.

Congress late last month approved a 350 billion U.S. dollars paycheck protection program as part of a 2.3 trillion economic stimulus in response to the virus outbreak to provide what are essentially grants to businesses nationwide to pay their workers.

Mnuchin tweeted that he has reached out to both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives "to secure an additional $250 billion for the #PPPLoan program to make sure small businesses get the money they need!"

Shortly before Mnuchin's announcement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement, "It is quickly becoming clear that Congress will need to provide more funding or this crucial program may run dry."

He added that he would work with Mnuchin and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on the initiative with the goal of winning Senate approval on Thursday.

It was not immediately clear whether the top two Democrats in Congress, Schumer and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, would embrace this timetable as they have been pushing for a broader set of measures that would comprise a fourth coronavirus-response bill since early March.

Quick Senate action would highlight the alarm over the crisis for small enterprises that have been shuttered because of the coronavirus outbreak.

McConnell's backing also marked a change in attitude. He warned in an April 1 interview with the Washington Post that Pelosi should not undertake a "premature" fourth stimulus bill related to the pandemic.

But just days into the launch of the small business loans, with coronavirus cases raging in many parts of the United States, pressure built for more aid.

"There is a critical need to supplement the (loan) fund to ensure America's more than 30 million small businesses will be able to access this critical lifeline," Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio said in a statement.

Restaurants and hotels are among businesses hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak, with many of them shuttered.

The loan program aims to encourage small enterprises to keep their employees on staff and help them pay rent, mortgages, utilities and other overhead costs.

(With inputs from AFP and Reuters)

(Cover: U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin walks to a meeting during negotiations on a coronavirus disease relief package, Washington, U.S., March 23, 2020. /Reuters)