By Richard Cowan and Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation on Wednesday giving small businesses up to 24 weeks to use Paycheck Protection Program loans created during the coronavirus pandemic, up from the current eight-week deadline.
The legislation, already passed by the House of Representatives, now goes to President Donald Trump to sign into law. The program was created in March to support small businesses during the pandemic and encourage them to retain their employees.
Under the PPP program, loans for restaurants, hotels and other small businesses would convert into federal grants if recipients adhere to a set of conditions, including spending the loan amount within the required time.
Democratic Senator Ben Cardin said that Washington had so far handed out 4.4 million forgivable loans valued at a total of $510 billion. He called it a “lifeline” for businesses struggling during the pandemic.
He said gyms, caterers, museums and other small businesses had been particularly hobbled by the eight-week requirement for using the loans and needed more time to carry out the terms of the loans.
A total of $659 billion has been provided by Congress for the loan program, which is part of broader coronavirus emergency aid totaling around $3 trillion so far.
Congress is expected to debate additional assistance in coming weeks, possibly including more federal funds to help state and local governments whose revenues have plummeted amid higher demand for services and social lockdowns.
The bill also gives businesses more flexibility to use the loans to pay for expenses other than payrolls.
(Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Richard Cowan; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)