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President Biden will announce several revisions to a federal program helping businesses stay afloat during the pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program. The changes are aimed at ensuring more small and minority-owned businesses are able to qualify for federal assistance. CBS News senior White House correspondent Weijia Jiang joined CBSN to discuss what those changes entail.
ANNE-MARIE GREEN: President Biden is set to announce several revisions to a federal program helping businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, known as the Paycheck Protection Program. The changes are aimed at ensuring more small and minority-owned businesses are able to qualify for federal assistance. The program was initially rolled out in the early days of the pandemic, and then renewed in December. So let's bring in Weijia Jiang for the very latest on what is happening at the White House.
Weijia, thank you so much for joining us. The first sort of round of the Paycheck Protection Program, though successful in many ways, also raised a lot of alarms. We saw really big businesses who had access to other funding receive huge checks. We saw small business owners get the money, but be too afraid to use it, because they weren't sure if they would have to repay it or when they would have to repay it. And restrictions on the way businesses could spend the money that didn't exactly help them keep their doors open. So what changes can we expect this time around?
WEIJIA JIANG: Anne-Marie, we also saw that a lot of white business owners compared to minority business owners were getting those loans under the Trump administration. And so under President Biden's team, they're really focused on providing equity of these loans to small businesses. And that's why beginning on Wednesday, there's going to be a two-week open window for businesses that only have fewer than 20 employees to apply for these forgivable loans.
There will also be $1 billion set aside to direct towards sole proprietors. And different people can now apply as well, including non-citizen legal residents, those falling behind on their federal student loans, and they are lifting a prohibition on lending to companies with at least 20% ownership by a person arrested or convicted for a non-fraud felony.
So basically, the goal here is to expand the window to allow more business owners from a variety of places despite what sort of life experiences and backgrounds that they bring to the table to apply for these loans. Because again, they really want to try to target this money to people who did not have the opportunity to see it the first couple of times around.
VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Weijia, President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill took a step forward, as you know, last week, with the House Budget Committee unveiling the nearly 600-page text on Friday. Now Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised that the Senate would pass the bill before the looming March 14 unemployment benefits deadline. So what comes next before Americans can start seeing relief? And the real question has to do with that $15 minimum wage, right. There's sort of an interesting political dynamic to this where Senator Joe Manchin could be the one ultimately who decides whether or not this lives or dies. It's sort of interesting.
WEIJIA JIANG: Right. So right now, Democrats are working to get this bill passed as soon as possible. And that means today, members of the House Committee that you just talked about for the budget that unveiled this package last week, are set to mark it up, meaning they'll debate it, they'll add any amendments before ultimately getting to the House floor to vote.
And you're right. The Senate has already said as far as Democrats, that they plan to use reconciliation, which is a budgetary process to move this through without the need of any Republican support. But Joe Manchin, on to your point, has made very clear that the $15 an hour minimum wage is just not going to work for him. And he believes it's not going to be in the best interest of his state, because that means a lot of business owners would have to pay more to their employees that he doesn't believe they can afford.
And so it's not just Joe Manchin, but the president himself has made clear that he has acknowledged this probably won't make it through this time. Now Manchin has said he might be open to a lower rate, like $12 an hour, but that's where the negotiations come in. And we have to see whether or not they can get to a figure that both Manchin and more progressive Democrats are happy with.
But in general overall, it looks like this bill could pass as soon as sometime this week, because Democrats really want to get it done before the current unemployment benefits run out on March 14. And so we should expect that some proposal, although we don't know what the details will be, will go through sometime in the coming days.
ANNE-MARIE GREEN: I want to pivot to another topic, Weijia. The president's going to be marking the US crossing the 500, crossing the sort of grim milestone we've been talking about, 500,000 lives lost to COVID-19 today. This is something that we really hardly saw the previous administration actually acknowledge. And this time around with President Biden, there are a couple of events that he has planned.
WEIJIA JIANG: And most notably tonight at sundown, he does, he is expected to make remarks while holding a candlelight ceremony here at the White House, along with the first lady, Vice President Kamala Harris and the second gentleman, to really address the fact that we have reached this grim milestone that nobody thought could happen at one point.
In fact, I remember under the Trump administration, the worst case scenario at the time according to the models, was I think 240,000. And now here we are, more than double that. And so President Biden was very clear from the moment he took office, and he said to Americans, look, this thing's probably going to get worse before it gets better. We are in for a dark winter.
And we should expect more of that sort of language where he is leveling with the public and acknowledging that we are still in a tough situation. Even though the number of cases continues to go down and people are getting vaccinated every day, we are in a really critical time. And that's what we've heard not only from President Biden, but also his health experts to say, this is no time to pull back and stop those critical measures to mitigate the virus, even though things look like they are finally getting better.
VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Yeah. And it's important to note, Weijia, that this was always going to be the case. I think there are some people who thought just because Joe Biden was elected to the presidency that all of a sudden we would start to turn the corner. In fact, you heard the former president often saying that. Once the elections happen, people aren't going to be talking about COVID-19 anymore.
But we have continued to talk about it. And I would say that the biggest difference probably is that the president, the current president, Joe Biden, acknowledges the tough road ahead, even while struggling or at least offering some hope that the vaccine will be available to all Americans by the summer who want it. And now of course, the challenge is convincing people, because there are significant portions of the people in this country who are skeptical of the vaccine.
WEIJIA JIANG: Right.
VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: That's going to be another uphill battle that the president is going to have to tackle. But at the very least, he's acknowledging all of those difficulties. And also the good news, as we start to turn the corner here. Weijia Jiang at the White House for us. As always, Weijia, we thank you.
WEIJIA JIANG: Thank you.