Weekly Columns

Congress took aggressive action last year to respond to the public health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a matter of days, Republicans and Democrats came together to unanimously pass the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This historic bill delivered immediate assistance to employees and families and created the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to support small businesses. The innovative response helped tackle the economic challenges facing small businesses by keeping employees on payroll and covering the cost of rent and utilities. The PPP lifeline saved millions of jobs across the country.

It’s now been one year since the Small Business Administration (SBA) implemented the PPP. The efforts to help this program succeed and the support it continues to provide are a bright spot in an otherwise challenging year. The PPP has delivered more than 8.7 million loans to small businesses totaling approximately $734 billion in relief nationwide. In Arkansas, it has enabled more than 64,000 small businesses to maintain operations.  

Given the number of businesses it has helped, it should be no surprise Congress has continued bipartisan cooperation to improve its longevity, simplify the loan forgiveness paperwork and amend eligibility requirements to save more businesses. Participation continues to grow as a result of changes Congress has approved, including the recent extension of the program and the expanded eligibility authorized in the COVID-19 relief bill passed last December. 

The legislation extended PPP eligibility to local news outlets — an improvement I advocated for due to the crucial need for local news, especially during the public health crisis. Ensuring our hometown newspapers, television affiliates and radio stations have access to these loans helps keep Arkansans informed and writers and reporters employed. The addition of this provision was a great relief for thousands of newspapers and television and radio stations. Officials with the Arkansas Broadcasters Association said enabling local broadcasters to access PPP funds will allow news organizations to continue to “be there to record and encourage the revival of civic life.” 

As we commemorate the one-year anniversary of the PPP, I will be meeting with small business owners who received funding through this program to hear how it has impacted their operations. I’ll also be sharing its influence on Arkansas businesses on my social media channels, where you’ll hear from small business owners and managers about how vital the funds were to maintaining operations. For example, one Arkansas radio station general manager explained how she wanted to ensure job security for her employees. “We have families that live right here that depend on us.” The PPP helped keep the radio station’s staff on payroll and keep the team together. 

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. They are as diverse as the customers they serve and are the heartbeat and lifeline to towns large and small across our state. COVID-19 may have interrupted their operations, but small business owners responded with resilience. I am proud of the PPP’s creation and its role in providing help for many Arkansans struggling to survive and recover during these difficult times.