The Senate voted 92-7 Thursday to extend the Paycheck Protection Program to the end of May after rejecting two Republican amendments and waiving a budget point of order.
The vote cleared the measure that would extend the program, now due to expire on March 31. The House passed the bill 415-3 earlier this month. It next heads to President Joe Biden for his signature.
The popular program has issued 7.5 million loans totaling $687 billion to small businesses during the last year, according to data from the Small Business Administration. The bill would also allow the agency an extra month to process applications after the program closes.
FiscalNote, the parent company of CQ Roll Call, has received a loan under the program.
“This program has been a lifeline to countless small businesses and has saved more than 50 million jobs in this country,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said on the floor. “If we do not act, there are 190,000 pending applications for loans that will be in limbo. These small businesses need this assistance now in order to pay their employees and stay afloat.”
"We cannot wait. The House has gone home," she said. "We cannot allow an interruption of this vital program that has made such a difference to our small businesses and their employees."
But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., urged senators to vote no, saying the program would allow health care centers affiliated with the national Planned Parenthood organization to get aid. The Biden administration allowed Planned Parenthood centers to get loans through the program, despite provisions in the original law passed last April that defined affiliated companies as one entity, Paul said.
“I urge everyone who believes that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for abortion to vote no,” he said.
The program was established to help small businesses cope with the COVID-19 pandemic that erupted in March 2020. It was designed to help them keep workers on the payroll despite being forced to close or reduce business to contain the coronavirus. Unemployment claims soared after the pandemic was declared. The Labor Department on Thursday reported initial claims for weekly benefits fell to below 700,000 last week for the first time in more than a year.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said he would work with Republicans on a bill to address issues with the program to pass when Congress returns next month, including making retroactive a March 3 change to how the SBA calculates loans for sole proprietors to allow business owners who applied earlier to get more money. But he warned against making changes now.
“Let me be clear, any amendment that's put on this clean extension will mean that the program will terminate in less than one week and hundreds of thousands of small businesses will not be able to get their PPP loans,” Cardin said as he fended off GOP efforts to amend it. Cardin leads the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.
The Senate voted 48-52 Thursday to reject an amendment offered by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that would have limited how the Small Business Administration could spend the PPP money by preventing the agency from prioritizing some businesses over others.
Rubio said his amendment was necessary because delays and confusion caused by the Biden administration’s decision to limit the program to only those businesses with fewer than 20 employees for two weeks last month.
“The very reason why we even have to do an extension is because the new administration has unfairly and unnecessarily restricted eligible businesses and nonprofits from applying. It's created confusion. People haven't been able to get in by the deadlines," Rubio said. “Unless we put in more guardrails, there's little assurance that this is not going to continue.”
The program as amended in December prioritizes smaller businesses, businesses in low income areas and community financial institutions. Any changes to those priorities would have to come from Congress, Rubio said.
The Senate also voted 48-52 to reject an amendment offered by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., would have barred business owners convicted of felonies related to “riots or civil disorder” in the last two years from getting loans through the program.
The chamber voted 64-36 to waive the point of order offered by Paul, clearing the final hurdle for a vote on the measure. The point of order objected to the bill’s violation of pay-as-you-go rules that require the measure to include provisions to offset its costs.
The Congressional Budget Office said in a March 16 report extending the program would increase the cost of the program by $15 billion. Cardin said there will be $50 billion leftover from money already appropriated by Congress to fund the program at the end of this month.