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House votes to extend popular small business loan program

Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in WashingtonAnna Moneymaker/The New York Times

The House voted Thursday to give small businesses financially strapped by the COVID-19 crisis more flexibility to spend forgivable loans for payrolls and expenses from the government’s popular Paycheck Protection Program.

The 417-1 vote sends the measure to the Senate, which may seek changes.

The bill’s sponsors say urgent action is needed because the eight-week period when proceeds must be spent for loans to be forgiven will begin expiring Friday for the first loan recipients after the Small Business Administration program opened April 3.

The House measure would give companies much more time to spend the money — within 24 weeks or until the end of the year — and still qualify to have their PPP loans forgiven. Businesses would have up to five years, instead of two years, to repay money owed on a loan and could use a greater percentage of proceeds on rent and other approved non-payroll expenses.

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“The true emergency period has evolved over time and this bill addresses that,” said Steve Chabot of Ohio, the top Republican on the Small Business Committee. “The flexibility that this allows America’s small businesses is going to go a long way to address the concerns we have heard time and time again.”

The Senate is expected to take up the bill next week. While House majority leader Steny Hoyer said his chamber isn’t scheduled to be formally in session next week, but it could pass a Senate-amended bill by voice vote.