WASHINGTON – The Senate voted Tuesday night to extend a federal loan program for an additional five weeks, a surprise move that would allow small businesses to overcome the pandemic to continue receiving aid.
Less than four hours before the Paycheck Protection Program ended with more than $ 130 billion in unspent loans, the Senate approved extending the application period until August 8.
The legislation is now directed at the House, which had finished voting before the bill passed the Senate, and will require President Trump’s signature for the program to continue. Members of both houses are expected to leave Washington by July 4 and are not scheduled to return in full for two weeks.
“The resources are there,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland and one of the architects of the program, which offers low-interest loans to help small businesses maintain their payrolls. “The need is there. We just need to change the date. “
The unexpected approval of the extension, which required the agreement of 100 senators, came as lawmakers began debating the contours of another coronavirus relief package. With multiple parts of the $ 2.2 trillion stimulus bill due to expire in late July and new outbreaks forcing many states to curb efforts to reopen their economies, lawmakers widely acknowledge that another measure will be necessary.
“I came here thinking we couldn’t come to an agreement,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, who joined Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and other senators involved in creating the program on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday. night.
Out of the initiatives created by the stimulus law, the Check Protection Program has emerged as a bipartisan centerpiece despite a chaotic start. Faced with a deluge of requests for assistance, the program ran out of money, and Congress moved in April to inject it with an additional $ 320 billion. The program, administered by the Small Business Administration, has already allocated $ 520 billion in loans to nearly five million companies across the country.
Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, told lawmakers on Tuesday that he had been discussing the possibility of reusing the funds remaining in the program, “extending it to the most affected companies, which were required to have their revenues reduced significantly , things like restaurants and hotels and others where it is critical that people go back to work. “
The bipartisan group of lawmakers who helped draft the program has already begun debating how to tackle it in future legislation. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, on Tuesday raised the possibility of requiring that the new loans target only businesses whose revenues have declined, although he approved the approval of the extension without addressing that concern.
“Obviously, we will have to be more focused on truly small businesses, and on top of that, I am also developing a program to provide financing for businesses in underserved communities or opportunity zones and other zip codes that would fall into that category,” said Senator Marco. Rubio, a Florida Republican and chair of the Small Business Committee, before the extension Tuesday.
“We are talking to the White House about it,” he added. “They have expressed to us that they do not intend to reuse that money for anything else, but our hope is that we can use that as the base type to build a second round of assistance in a more targeted way.”