Senate seeks to quickly pass change to PPP to give businesses more time to use money

Facing a growing outcry from small businesses, the Senate is trying to quickly approve a major change Thursday to a popular loan program to extend the lifeline for loans given out under the popular Paycheck Protection Program.

Both parties have faced increased pressure to change the March stimulus law that requires loans to be used within eight weeks in order to be forgiven. In legislation introduced Thursday, the bipartisan fix would give business owners 16 weeks instead of eight to use their loan money and still be eligible for forgiveness of the loan. The new legislation would also give business owners until December to apply for the loans instead of ending the program in June.

For weeks, business owners have been urging Congress to extend the timeframe of when they could use the money. They’ve also urged lawmakers to offer more flexibility in how the money can be used. Under the bipartisan proposal rolled out Thursday, business owners can now use money from the PPP to buy protective gear for workers coming back. They can also use the money to build new infrastructure to prevent the spread of disease like sneeze guards and other protective measures.

With the Senate set to take next week off for the Memorial Day holiday, the only way to get quick approval is for all 100 senators to sign off on the plan. As of Thursday afternoon, it was still unclear if there would be unanimous consent on the proposal.

“It just extends the time in which people could take advantage of the program. It doesn’t add additional money to it,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, told reporters.

If there are no objections, it will pass the Senate on Thursday, Thune said.

Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Small Business Committee and a sponsor of the proposal, told reporters Thursday that he wasn’t sure it would have the support to pass by the weekend.

“It would be nice if we could,” Cardin said.

House Democrats, meanwhile, plan to advance a bill next week to allow the loans to be used over a 24-week timeframe. But Senate Small Business Chairman Marco Rubio said Thursday “I don’t think we’re going to be able to go that far and get unanimous consent.”

The negotiations over PPP come as there is widespread disagreement in the Senate and even within the Republican Party about how and if lawmakers need to appropriate more stimulus funding.

This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.