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Negotiations Continue For New COVID-19 Relief Bill

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The economy - well, it fell off a cliff this past week, and the payments so many unemployed Americans rely on are on hold for now. Negotiations are continuing between Democrats, Republicans and the White House over a new coronavirus relief package. But so far, there is no deal. Yesterday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin left a lengthy meeting with congressional Democrats saying that things were on track.

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STEVEN MNUCHIN: I think we would also characterize the discussions as the most productive we've had today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that despite progress, the two sides are still far apart on key issues.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: We're not close yet, but it was a productive discussion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So where does that leave us? NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell joins us now to tell us more.

Good morning.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the expanded unemployment benefits that added $600 that millions of people - unemployed people were receiving expired on Friday. I imagine that puts a lot of pressure on leaders and the White House to compromise.

SNELL: Yeah. I mean, this has real consequences for real people. We're talking about roughly 30 million people who, you know, will not be receiving those extra benefits. To give some context here, people will still receive their state benefits if they're filing for unemployment, but the average for most states is around $375. So this is a very significant change in weekly payments. You know, avoiding that reduction was supposed to create pressure, but obviously, it wasn't enough for them to get a deal before the money expired.

You know, there are big pressures coming down the line, though. There will be economic indicators, like more people filing, how much money they're spending, that consumer price index, what people are doing with the money that they have. And there are questions of housing. I've heard from a lot of Democrats who worry that this will have a - spark a rent crisis - people unable to make their rent, which will make smaller landlords in particular unable to pay their mortgage. So as these elements start to mount, there is expectation that, you know, there will be less room for both sides to, you know, dig in deep and refuse to reach an agreement.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As this crisis continues. We should say here that House Democrats did pass a massive $3 trillion relief bill back in May. Is there any sense that the Senate items on the table, which is controlled by the Republicans, will resemble that legislation in any way, or is this something else entirely?

SNELL: You know, the thing that's interesting here is that Republicans are floating a couple of different options and have throughout this week. But none of it does meet that huge $3 trillion sum that Democrats have already passed. One of the things that the White House keeps pushing for is they say maybe a short-term stand-alone way to address unemployment alone. But Democrats are not particularly interested in that. They want to focus on getting something big because this could be the last big legislative train leaving the station because, you know, once we get past this, there is a long recess. And then the election's coming. And the pressures and the focus changes for Congress.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is the timetable for getting this done, Kelsey? House members have gone home. The Senate is slated to be here next week. But could this keep Congress working over a planned recess?

SNELL: It could certainly cut into a part of that recess because, you know, normally they would go home and campaign right now. But it's very hard to go home and campaign or go on vacation when 30 million people are missing unemployment benefits and there is all of this focus. So that is something that could certainly keep Congress in town when they typically would try to get out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell.

Thank you very much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.