By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved legislation increasing the amount of time, to 24 weeks from the current eight weeks, for small businesses to use Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans spurred by the coronavirus outbreak.
The legislation, passed by a vote of 417-1, now goes to the Senate. The program, created in March, helps support small businesses during the pandemic and encourages them to retain employees.
Last week, senators worked on a bipartisan bill extending the time frame to 16 weeks, instead of the 24 weeks embraced by the House.
If the Republican-controlled Senate passes a bill that varies from the Democratic-led House’s, the two chambers would have to reconcile differences before sending it to Republican President Donald Trump for signing into law.
Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled House failed to pass legislation opposed by most Republicans requiring public reports on PPP loan recipients.
The House-passed bill comes as states have begun loosening efforts to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has raced across the United States and the world.
More than 100,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Over 1.7 million U.S. cases have been reported.
Under the PPP program, loans for restaurants, hotels and other businesses would convert into federal grants if recipients adhere to a set of conditions, including spending the loan amount within the required time.
Many businesses have been unable to meet the eight-week requirement.
A total of $659 billion has been provided by Congress for the loan program, which is part of broader coronavirus emergency aid totaling around $3 trillion so far.
The House bill that passed on Thursday includes other changes giving businesses more flexibility in using the aid.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)