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WATCH: Senate votes to extend small business loan program for 2 months

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate passed a bill 92-7 on Thursday to extend the deadline for business owners to apply for forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, giving applicants two more months to apply for federal aid.

Watch the Senate debate in the video player above.

The bill had already passed the House, so it now goes to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law. Congress started the loan program last year to help businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

The deadline for applications would be extended to May 31 under the bill, and the federal government would have until June 30 to process the applications.

The COVID-19 relief bill that Biden signed into law this month included another $7.25 billion for the program, but it did not extend the timeline for getting the loans. Business groups lobbied lawmakers to keep the program going to help ensure businesses that still need help can get it.

The Small Business Administration reports that it has approved nearly 7.9 million loans totaling about $704 billion.

The loans are structured so that they can be fully forgiven if the recipient attempts to maintain similar levels of employment and uses at least 60 percent of the loan to cover payroll costs. The remaining 40 percent can be spent of rent, utility costs and other operational expenses.

“This bipartisan legislation comes at a time when small business owners are still grappling with the economic effects of the pandemic and extending the Paycheck Protection Program, even for just a short time to exhaust existing funding, will help some of the small businesses that need it most,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Paycheck Protection Program has been criticized for favoring bigger businesses with ties to major banks during the first months of the pandemic. An analysis of PPP loans by ZIP code by the Associated Press found that “thousands of minority-owned small businesses” were among the last to receive loans during the first two rounds of funding, which lasted from April 3 to Aug. 8. The AP found that many of these business owners didn’t receive a PPP loan until the last few weeks of the program, while more white business owners were able to secure loans earlier.

The Biden administration announced several changes to the program earlier this year to address these disparities and make PPP loans more accessible to smaller minority-owned businesses, but a number of Black and Hispanic business owners told the PBS NewsHour they feel the support they’ve received from the program so far has not been sufficient.

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