Lawmakers are in early discussions about another round of COVID-19 stimulus spending to benefit service-oriented businesses like restaurants and gyms that are facing hardship now as the omicron variant continues to disrupt the economy.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), who chairs the Senate Small Business Committee, is reportedly working with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) to craft legislation that could be attached to a bill to fund the government when the current stopgap measure runs out on Feb. 18. Cardin and Wicker said the cost of the new bill is still under discussion but could include a mix of new spending and repurposing unused money authorized under previous COVID relief packages.
According to the Washington Post, Cardin and Wicker have discussed the bill with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle including Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to gauge support. Such legislation could an uphill battle, however, as some GOP lawmakers have voiced concern about adding to the sizable deficit.
Congress approved roughly $1 trillion of emergency COVID-19 stimulus since March 2020 but most of those programs have ended, including the massive Paycheck Protection Program which stopped accepting applications for loans last May.
“The restaurant money is a fairness issue,” Cardin told Bloomberg BNA. “Some restaurants got it and others did not. We started with restaurants but we are prepared to expand it if there is sufficient support.”
Cardin pointed to the American Rescue Plan enacted last March that included $28.6 billion in grants for struggling restaurants but the money ran out by October, leaving some eligible restaurants out in the cold.