Weekly Columns

Small business owners have faced unprecedented challenges for nearly a year as a result of COVID-19. Last March, Congress developed the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help these businesses survive and continue paying their employees. More than 43,000 PPP loans were approved for Arkansas last year. Now, more help is on the way. 

Last month, President Trump signed into law COVID-19-relief that extends the PPP, allocating more than $284 billion to expand the program. This will allow additional businesses to participate and provide those experiencing severe revenue reductions an opportunity to apply for an additional forgivable loan, particularly restaurants and hotels. These updates to the program will help prevent small business closures, allowing them to continue paying their employees, rent and utilities. We know this program has been a lifeline for small businesses, so strengthening the program to ensure it continues to deliver vital support was absolutely necessary.  

I’ve advocated allowing local newspapers, radio and television broadcasters to be eligible for PPP loans. This is particularly essential as Arkansans rely on quality news coverage from local outlets to stay informed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local newsrooms are reporting details residents need to know about things such as when they can receive the COVID-19 vaccine and where and how it will be administered. 

Unfortunately, this crisis has intensified declines in advertising revenue forcing some news outlets to drastically reduce the number of staff, furlough workers or even close. This threatens the flow of reliable and community-centered information. 

I worked with my colleagues to expand eligibility and ensure these local outlets have access to PPP funds. The new law fixes the Small Business Administration (SBA) affiliation rule that prevented local news outlets owned by larger parent companies from qualifying for PPP funding. TV and radio stations with 500 or fewer employees and newspapers with no more than 1,000 employees are now eligible for PPP loans – that’s more than 3,300 television and radio stations and 2,000 newspapers nationwide.  

Arkansas Press Association Executive Director Ashley Wimberley says this “will help maintain these vital information sources and preserve local jobs” in our state.

Just as importantly as providing funds to small businesses, Congress has a role to oversee the implementation of the program so these critical resources only go to qualified recipients. For instance, last year we learned Planned Parenthood received PPP loans despite being ineligible to participate in the program. I joined my Arkansas colleague Senator Tom Cotton in calling on the Department of Justice to investigate this misuse of taxpayer dollars. As the SBA reopens the PPP, we’ve requested that agency officials take precautions to prevent this from happening again. 

Congress made some necessary updates to the PPP that will improve how we can help struggling businesses. I’m pleased we are able to deliver additional aid so we can asssist small businesses in rebounding quickly.