Weekly Columns

In March, Stepping Stone School, a Crawford County non-profit providing services for young children and their families, suspended its in-person lessons in order to comply with health guidelines. However, the school’s instruction and outreach continued virtually thanks in part to help it received from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). It’s one of 41,000 small businesses in Arkansas that received a PPP loan to pay employees, rent and utilities during the pandemic and the associated economic downturn. During a visit to the school last month, the executive director shared with me how important the PPP loan was to continue providing vital services individuals and families depend on. The PPP has been a lifeline for small businesses across our state and throughout the nation that have experienced financial challenges as a result of COVID-19. Congress must continue supporting this program and the small businesses weathering current economic challenges. 

Congress unanimously created PPP in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It provides low-interest loans to small businesses to keep themselves afloat, with a portion of the loan eligible for forgiveness. Arkansas small businesses have received PPP loans worth approximately $3.2 billion.  

Like many programs, there is always room for improvement. Funds for the popular program were quickly replenished, and Congress made some minor changes to provide additional flexibility and allow more small businesses to participate. This was accomplished with broad bipartisan support. 

Those cooperative efforts continued as Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have cosponsored legislation to streamline and simplify the forgiveness process for the program’s smaller loans. This would minimize the burden of extensive paperwork to allow our small businesses to focus on retaining jobs, rather than working through mountains of red tape. After hearing from stakeholders, the U.S. Small Business Administration modified the loan forgiveness application to provide some relief to program participants. While I appreciate this administrative action, we can do more to make it easier, and I will continue to support a legislative fix.

Many companies and industries continue to experience hardships because they aren’t able to resume normal operations. We ought to use the successful model of PPP to continue helping struggling businesses survive this pandemic. Congress can provide certainty for owners, employees and families by refilling and reopening the PPP that expired this summer.  

I recently voted in favor of a boost to the PPP allowing the hardest-hit small businesses to receive an additional round of funding. We can provide more resources, strengthen oversight and create a simpler loan forgiveness process to help keep hardworking Americans employed and businesses in operation. This is something we all agreed is critical to economic recovery earlier this year. Unfortunately, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer blocked the bill from advancing. It’s disappointing that my colleagues across the aisle don’t have the same urgency to advance Senate legislation that would provide much-needed relief to America’s small businesses and their employees.

The PPP has been a game-changer in keeping the doors of small businesses open and saving millions of jobs. It’s imperative that we come together again to strengthen this lifeline.