Chamber Urges Congress to Boost Small Firm Aid as Funds Run Low

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(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is urging Congress to give a small-business aid program an infusion of funds before it runs out, as Democrats and Republicans remain deadlocked over extending assistance to local governments and hospitals.

Suzanne Clark, who is president of the U.S. largest business group, said in a letter that congressional leaders need to take “urgent action” to shore up both disaster aid and a pool of $349 billion in forgivable loans.

The latter program, known as the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, was already overburdened by demand and delays last week, when it was opened to the self-employed and independent contractors, adding a large new pool of applicants to a program that was quickly running out of funds just days after it began.

“Without an infusion of resources, PPP is unlikely to meet outstanding needs for a large number of small businesses,” Clark wrote in the letter dated April 10.

As of Monday morning, the Small Business Administration reported there have been almost 880,000 applications approved, totaling about $217 billion. That amount hasn’t been given to firms yet, but represents the value of loans SBA has guaranteed for lenders to disburse. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Saturday that the money would be depleted by Friday.

Congressional Divide

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has requested more aid for small businesses, but Democratic and Republican lawmakers disagree on the additional funding, likely delaying any quick resolution. Democrats also want to allocate $250 billion in aid to states and hospitals -- something Republican leaders and President Donald Trump have said can wait until later.

The Chamber on Monday said it will gather information on and plan for a return to work for the U.S. that would “be gradual, phased-in, and will vary by factors such as location, sector, business type or size, and the health status of workers.”

The group said it will examine issues including testing and personal protective equipment, assistance for sectors such as restaurants that are unlikely to be profitable with continued social distancing and regulatory and liability questions for businesses while reopening.

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