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Senate passes bill to give flexibility for small business coronavirus aid program

The Senate passed legislation on Wednesday to provide more flexibility for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides help for small businesses amid the steep economic impact of the coronavirus.

"Today we're passing another piece of legislation that makes a few targeted changes to the program," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote Democrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation GOP Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court pick to succeed Ginsburg MORE (R-Ky.) announced from the floor. "I'm proud the Senate is sending it on to the president's desk to become law."

The bill, which would extend the window for businesses to be able to spend loans granted under the program, passed the Senate by unanimous consent. The bill already passed the House last month, meaning it now goes to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE's desk. 

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Under the March $2.2 trillion coronavirus package, businesses were given eight weeks to spend PPP funds. The bill passed by the Senate on Thursday would extend it to 24 weeks.

It would also change a 75-25 divide included in the March bill — which required businesses to spend 75 percent of the loan on payroll and 25 percent on other fixed costs such as rent and utilities — to a 60-40 ratio.

Negotiations on expanding the PPP's flexibility have been ongoing for weeks after the Senate left town for the Memorial Day recess without being able to pass its own version of the House legislation.

"I'm glad our Republican friends have relented and passed the bill here as we are about to close session for this week. It passed the House. We Democrats have been pushing to get it done for the last three days," said Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerGraham dismisses criticism from Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Lewandowski: Trump 'wants to see every Republican reelected regardless of ... if they break with the president' Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  MORE (D-N.Y.).

The passage of the bill comes only hours after Democrats tried to pass it earlier Wednesday, but Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonDemocrat announces 2022 bid for Ron Johnson's seat Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day MORE (R-Wis.) objected.

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Johnson said at the time that he was objecting because language in the bill could be misinterpreted to let businesses apply for the PPP loans through the end of the year instead of through the end of June.

"I reached out to Democrat leaders saying we're very close. I think we'll probably be able to pass the House bill with assurances by unanimous consent, just not at this moment," Johnson said.

Johnson was asking for committee leaders and Senate leadership to sign a "letter of intent" that the PPP not be automatically reauthorized through the end of the year.

"Put that letter in the Congressional Record so that we are certain that we're not reauthorizing this or authorizing it through Dec. 31, that the authorization does end June 30," Johnson said.

McConnell on Wednesday evening submitted a letter into the Congressional Record. Spokespeople for McConnell directed a question about the letter to spokesmen for Johnson, who didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Schumer thanked Johnson shortly before the bill passed, saying they had talked on the phone "repeatedly."

"This is an improvement that's much needed and comes at the last minute," he added, "Eight weeks will expire so soon, and now it's extended to 24 weeks."