Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is checking with senators to see if a bill to fix elements of the emergency small business lending program, passed overwhelmingly by the House last week, can pass the chamber unanimously, according to two aides.
If all 100 senators give the bill the greenlight, it could move early this week, the aides said, as small business owners involved in the program have furiously lobbied lawmakers to make changes to the Paycheck Protection Program as the clock ticks on the ability for businesses to have their loans forgiven.
"I hope and anticipate the Senate will soon take up and pass legislation that just passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 417-1 to further strengthen the Paycheck Protection Program so it continues working for small businesses that need our help," McConnell said Monday on the Senate floor, alluding to the potential for quick passage in the chamber.
The program is a central element of the nearly $3 trillion federal effort to direct emergency funds in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century. While it got off to a rocky launch, it has been immensely popular for small business owners seeking to keep employees on payroll -- and keep their lights on generally -- as governors across the country issued stay-at-home orders in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.
But loan volume for the program -- which ran out of the initial $349 billion allocated by Congress in fewer than two weeks -- has recently collapsed as businesses have attempted to navigate shifting rules and regulations, as well as the reality that the economic downturn is far deeper, with wider ranging effects, than initially thought when it was created by Congress.
The House-passed measure would expand the period in which money must be utilized in order to qualify for loan forgiveness to 24 weeks, from eight weeks, and ease the requirement that 75% of the funds must be used to cover payroll expenses. The new threshold would be set at 60%.
While the bill is broadly supported by members in both parties, several concerns were raised behind the scenes as the House moved toward its vote last week. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who is the chairman of the Small Business Committee and lead author of the original small business lending program, noted in a statement there were issues that could create problems for loan recipients that he wanted to address.
Rubio did say, however, he would discuss with the Treasury Department whether the issues could be addressed administratively.
The Treasury Department has indicated the concerns would not be a problem, according to one source.