- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Senate on Thursday approved giving small businesses two extra months to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, extending the deadline to May 31.

The Small Business Administration would have an additional month after the new May 31 deadline to process the outstanding loan applications.

The Senate voted 92-7 to approve a House-passed measure, sending it to President Biden’s desk.

“It is clear that small businesses and nonprofits need access to PPP beyond March 31, so it was vital that the Senate acted to keep the program open,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee.

The popular loan program, which was created under the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package signed in March 2020, provides low-interest loans to businesses that are forgiven if a certain percentage of the funds are used for payroll expenses.

As of March 21, more than 8.2 million loans have been approved, totaling more than $718 billion.

Since the SBA reopened the application process in January, about $196 billion of a newly available $284 billion has been spoken for.

Business and consumer banking groups had pushed for an extension, saying new applicants were still running into error codes and crosschecks.

Mr. Biden announced tweaks to the program last month to get aid to businesses who might have missed out last year. Those changes included a two-week window during which only companies with fewer than 20 employees were allowed to apply.

Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package included an additional $7.25 billion in funding for PPP and opened it up to additional nonprofit groups.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, tried to push an amendment to bar further restrictions on eligible businesses, but it did not pass.

“The Biden administration should not make any further arbitrary changes to freeze out businesses previously made eligible by Congress,” said Mr. Rubio, a past chairman of the small business committee. “The PPP must remain a fair program that delivers relief to the businesses that need it most, not morph into a tool to reward special interests.”

Despite the extension, the program has attracted unwanted attention for PPP-related fraud and early struggles by the smallest businesses to get access to the funds.

More than $626 million in funds involving PPP and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL) have been seized or forfeited, according to a memo released Thursday by the Democratic staff of the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis.

“The Trump administration refused to implement basic controls in PPP and EIDL despite warnings from the select subcommittee and others, leading to billions of dollars in potential fraud,” the memo said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, said more than 99% of PPP funds have gone to the right place and that the Trump administration aggressively pursued fraud cases.

“The Democrats will claim that the PPP program is rife with fraud, when in fact it is just the opposite,” Mr. Jordan said.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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