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U.S. Commerce chief defends help for airlines, farmers amid COVID-19

Credit: REUTERS/ERIN SCOTT

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Friday defended additional government help for industries such as farming and airlines amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, but signaled little further aid for other sectors such as restaurants.

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WASHINGTON, Sept 18 (Reuters) - U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Friday defended additional government help for industries such as farming and airlines amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, but signaled little further aid for other sectors such as restaurants.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday announced a new round of about $13 billion pandemic assistance to farmers while the White House separately suggested giving U.S. airlines $25 billion in aid over the next six months to stave off thousands of employee layoffs.

The administration's push comes as the White House and Congress remained deadlocked over further economic relief amid the COVID-19 crisis ahead of the Nov. 3 election, although Trump on Thursday appeared to push for sweeping new aid despite a push by fellow Republicans in the Senate for a leaner spending plan. L1N2GD1CY

"The reason the White House might be receptive to a stand- alone deal is that it's not right to punish the airlines differentially because of coronavirus," Ross told Fox Business Network, adding: "We've got to bridge the airlines ... bridge their employees if we can through that period" until there is a COVID-19 vaccine.

Current federal aid is set to expire Oct. 1 and multiple carriers have said they will have to lay off thousands of pilots and other workers without more relief.

He also said while China was buying more U.S. agricultural goods, there was a still a lag and that American farmers were also being hit by the virus, telling the network: "It still is necessary to give the farmers a helping hand through this temporary period."

Asked if other industries such as restaurantsthat had also been hurt by the pandemic could see federal aid, Ross said they had already been helped in other ways.

"Restaurants ... got protected in a different way," with programs aimed at small businesses even though they were not restaurant-specific, he said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Steve Orlofsky)

((sheavey@thomsonreuters.com; +1 202 843 6600;))

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