(Fixes typographical error in last sentence to make it "she," not "he")
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON: The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to extend the COVID-19 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 pandemic, which has led to millions of businesses curtailing operations or shutting down for periods.
Biden told a news conference he hoped for a significant turnaround in the U.S. economy, saying forecasters expected vibrant growth as a growing number of people get vaccinated against COVID-19, which has killed more than 545,000 Americans.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States a little more than a year ago, the nation has struggled to bring back millions of jobs that were shed during lockdowns.
The PPP 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 applications could not be completed by then, adding that the US$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. 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 US$718 billion in loans already had been approved. She said it had secured tens of millions of jobs. (This story fixes typographical error in last sentence to make it "she," not "he")
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Edmund Blair)