The House on Wednesday agreed to extend for five weeks a popular pandemic relief loan program for small businesses, sending President Donald Trump legislation to give companies more time to apply for federal help under an initiative created by the stimulus law.
The move to extend the Paycheck Protection Program through Aug. 8, which allows small businesses to secure low-interest loans to help maintain their payrolls, came as Republicans and Democrats remained divided over how much additional federal assistance to provide to businesses and individuals affected by the coronavirus and the economic hardship it has caused.
The program shuttered on Tuesday with more than $130 billion in unspent loan money, after allocating $520 billion in loans to nearly 5 million businesses nationwide. But just hours before, senators unexpectedly agreed on a five-week extension. The House cleared it on Wednesday afternoon without a formal vote.
A much broader and more polarized clash between Republicans and Democrats over whether to extend an array of other assistance programs due to lapse this summer — such as enhanced unemployment benefits that expire at the end of July — will wait until later in the month, with both chambers set to leave Washington for the Fourth of July and not fully return for two weeks.
With a number of provisions in the $2.2 trillion stimulus law set to expire at the end of July and new outbreaks forcing many states to slow efforts to reopen their economies, lawmakers have acknowledged that another relief package will be necessary when Congress returns.
Divisions remain over what should be included in future legislation, including how to address the Paycheck Protection Program, administered by the Small Business Administration, which allows companies to have their loans forgiven if they maintain payrolls at a certain level. The program has bipartisan support, but it had a chaotic start and has drawn criticism both for criteria some saw as too broad and for rules that recipients said were too restrictive, barring them from using the money for their most pressing needs.