By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A majority of the U.S. Senate on Thursday agreed to extend the coronavirus pandemic Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) until the end of May, giving small businesses more time to apply and the government more time to process requests.
The bill, passed on a vote of 92-7, has already been approved by the House of Representatives and now goes to Democratic President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it into law.
The PPP provides loans to small businesses struggling to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in millions of businesses curtailing their operations or even shutting down for periods.
The loans convert into grants if the recipients meet certain conditions.
Without congressional action, the program would expire at the end of this month.
Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Ben Cardin said that applications could not be completed by then, adding that the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid approved by Congress this month expanded eligibility to more first-time borrowers, including non-profit organizations such as the YMCA.
“We are reaching the most needy,” Cardin said in a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday urging passage of the extension.
The legislation gives the Small Business Administration 30-days, beyond May 31, to complete processing loan applications.
The PPP was designed to stanch the loss of millions of businesses, such as restaurants that were particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. Critics complained that large companies and well-to-do law firms won millions of dollars in funding, especially in the early days of the program nearly a year ago.
Republican Senator Susan Collins called the PPP “a life-line for small businesses,” saying more than $718 billion in loans already had been approved. He said it had secured tens of millions of jobs.
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