July 1, 2020 / 9:33 PM / a month ago

U.S. House approves extension of small business loan program

FILE PHOTO: A person in a mask walks on a nearly empty street in the coronavirus outbreak near the Treasury Department in Washington, U.S. March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved an extension of a $660 billion lending program in an effort to help small businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, renewing a lifeline that had just expired.

The Senate approved the extension on Tuesday. It would keep the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which expired at midnight Tuesday, operating through Aug. 8. The bill, which both chambers passed on a voice vote, now goes to President Donald Trump for signing into law.

Lawmakers have been at odds over what additional steps are needed to help people, businesses and local governments cope with a pandemic that has sickened more than 2.6 million Americans and killed more than 127,000.

The Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration have handed out $515 billion since April under the small business lending program to help cash-strapped companies make rent and keep workers employed.

The House and Senate action is aimed at keeping the funds flowing at least a few more weeks as lawmakers discuss restructuring the program for the longer term.

Congress has signed off on roughly $3 trillion in coronavirus aid so far, but Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and other Fed policymakers have said more will be needed.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Tom Brown

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