Senate Republicans have endorsed a bipartisan bill that would give small business owners more flexibility on how they choose to spend their PPP loans. However, at least one outspoken critic has said the program failed American workers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Marco Rubio, who chairs the Small Business Committee, both endorsed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act. This almost passed last week, in a nearly unanimous 417-1 vote.
“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 during a speech on the Senate floor Monday.
The Paycheck Protection Program provides forgivable loans of up to $10 million to businesses. The money is for businesses with fewer than 500 workers that were affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Originally, for the loans to be forgiven, the businesses had to abide by strict requirements. They need to let loaners know how the money could be used. Around 75% of the loan had to go towards maintaining the businesses’ payroll. This includes salaries, health insurance, leave and severance pay, as well as having to rehire workers by June 30.
Easing Up Restrictions of Programs
The bill endorsed by McConnell and Rubio that passed on Thursday would ease some of those restrictions. This includes allowing businesses to spend 60% of the money on payroll. It also includes freeing up 40% of other expenses like rent and utilities. The new bill would also remove the requirement of rehiring workers by June 30. Also, it gives businesses 24 weeks to spend their PPP money on. This is far longer than the current 8-week limit.
The new bill isn’t perfect. However, they created programs such as this in an effort to address concerns by small business owners. Many of these business owners think the loan forgiveness requirements can become too strict to meet their needs. Many are fearful of inadvertently violating the rules and being on the hook to repay the loans.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says that no matter how they structure PPP loans, they have failed the American worker.
During an appearance on CNBC, Stiglitz said “The problem wasn’t just the amount of money. It was how the programs were designed. Our programs have failed, and we have to admit that.”
He says the loans went to the businesses who were most connected, not the ones who were most in need.
“The businesses with the best connections with the banks, the best customers, got at the head of the line, and those weren’t the smallest businesses, they weren’t the people who needed it most,” he said.
He said a better way to keep workers employed is looking at a model from Denmark or New Zealand. In the said countries, the government paid companies directly to keep workers on their payroll.
Stiglitz added, “We just haven’t thought enough about how we get money to the businesses in ways that make sure they really keep the attachment to the workers with those businesses.”