- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin on Tuesday said “no workers” should have to give their lives in a bid to give the U.S. economy a boost during the coronavirus pandemic, pushing back on questioning from Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat.

“We don’t intend to send anybody back to work without the protections,” Mr. Mnuchin told the Senate Banking Committee.

Mr. Brown then asked how many workers should give their lives to increase GDP by a half a percent.

“You’re pushing people back into the workplace. There’s been no national program to provide worker safety,” Mr. Brown said. “How many workers should give their lives to increase the GDP or the Dow Jones by a thousand points?”

“No workers should give their lives to do that, Mr. Senator, and I think your characterization is unfair,” Mr. Mnuchin replied.

Mr. Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell were delivering remote testimony to the committee on a $500 billion “stabilization fund” designed for lending money to businesses and local governments during the pandemic.

Congress included the funding in a $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package lawmakers passed in March.

Mr. Mnuchin said they have committed about $200 billion of the credit support and that they have the rest on hand to create or expand programs as needed.

“The only reason I have not allocated it fully is we are just starting to get these facilities up and running,” he said. “I expect to allocate all the capital as needed, as was given to us.”

Mr. Mnuchin said a new “main street” lending program designed to get loans to small- and medium-sized businesses should be open by the end of the month.

Mr. Powell also said the Federal Reserve is committed to using its “full range of tools” to support an economy that has been ravaged by the coronavirus.

The $500 billion stabilization fund is different from a separate loan program known as the Paycheck Protection Program that was also part of the rescue bill.

Mr. Mnuchin said the government has processed about 4 million PPP loans collectively totaling more than $530 billion.

Congress included about $350 billion for the program in the bill that passed in March, then replenished the depleted funding in a subsequent $484 billion emergency package.

The PPP loans are ultimately forgiven if companies use the money to keep employees on their payroll.

Some small businesses have said they’ve been left out in the cold, even as major chains such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Shake Shack managed to secure millions of dollars’ worth of loans — money that the companies returned after significant public outcry.

President Trump on Monday met with restaurant executives who say they want the eight-week period in which companies have to spend the money for the PPP loans to be forgiven extended to 24 weeks.

House Democrats did extend that time frame in the $3 trillion rescue package they passed last week, but the White House and Senate Republicans say they’re opposed to the broader bill.

The testimony came as all 50 states are moving in some form to relax coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses as the country looks to move to the next phase of dealing with the pandemic.

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