Congress presses Trump administration to fix small business relief program

Congress presses Trump administration to fix small business relief program

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol Building as seen ahead of a vote on the coronavirus (COVID-19) relief bill on Capitol Hill in Washington

By Pete Schroeder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers have urged the Treasury Department to clarify and streamline the government’s small business loan program, after hearing gripes from local businesses.

Several Democrats sent letters to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Small Business Administrator Jovita Carranza on Tuesday, saying businesses and banks were struggling with the program and needed help.

They said some businesses were struggling to understand whether they qualified for the loans, and others found themselves effectively frozen out as banks prioritized applications from existing clients.

“I am concerned that you have been unable to quickly set up the PPP so that these businesses can receive this funding in an expedient and fair manner,” Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey said in a letter sent Monday.

“Small businesses…are at grave risk of imminent collapse, and you must act quickly to ensure that they quickly get the help they need. Every lost day matters.”

The complaints from Congress come after a rocky first few days for the program, which has been beset by technical problems and paperwork confusion.

The rush to get the plan off the ground resulted in the government making last-minute changes to the program, which was still being tweaked as loans were processed. On Monday, the Treasury published another document aimed at answering frequent questions about the program.

The program was intended to quickly distribute $350 billion in relief to small businesses as part of a $2.3 trillion economic relief package. It was launched just one week after that package became law, but the speed has left banks scrambling to process loan applications while borrowers rush to claim a piece of the first-come, first-serve assistance.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said earlier on Tuesday that $50 billion across roughly 178,000 loans had already been authorized under the program. But many banks have yet to distribute those authorized funds, as they wait on a critical form from the SBA for borrowers to sign, according to industry officials.

Spokespeople for the Treasury Department and SBA did not respond to a request for comment.

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