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Omicron has lawmakers talking about another stimulus round for businesses

January 5, 2022, 4:15 PM UTC

Democrats and Republicans are discussing another round of economic aid as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads throughout the U.S. at a breathtaking pace.

Lawmakers are considering authorizing as much as $68 billion to assist businesses that have been hit particularly hard because of employees who have called in sick, the Washington Post reported. Work on the proposal started in December, but talks are still in an early phase, and the deal could face an uphill battle if it makes it to the House and Senate floors.

Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) are reportedly leading the effort, which would target businesses ranging from restaurants and gyms to entertainment venues and minor-league ball clubs. It’s unclear how much money, if any, would be targeted to smaller businesses the way that last year’s Payroll Protection Plan was.

There are, at present, no known conversations about another round of government stimulus checks for individuals, like the $1,400 given out last year.

Cardin and Wicker are reportedly working with their parties to gather support for their idea, which would draw money, in part, from previous packages that had unused cash when they wrapped up. Previous attempts to offer aid packages to restaurants have collapsed after GOP lawmakers cited spending concerns.

That was before Omicron hit, though. The virus now represents 95% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.—a feat it managed to achieve in just one month. On Monday, the U.S. hit a pandemic record of more than 1 million new infections, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. New infections have doubled in the past week.

Even the possibility of a stimulus package is a notable reversal for Congress. Last March the concept seemed all but dead, with administration officials pointing to the American Rescue Plan and last year’s Child Tax Credit as alternatives. With more than 15,000 canceled flights since Christmas Eve and businesses and schools shutting down once again, though, legislators are more open to discussing the idea.

On Monday, President Joe Biden urged people who haven’t been vaccinated to do so, while trying to reassure those who have been.

“Be concerned about Omicron, but don’t be alarmed,” he said.

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