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COVID-19

The small business loans program is basically out of cash. What’s next?

David Brancaccio, Amy Scott, and Alex Schroeder Apr 16, 2020
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There's bipartisan agreement over the fact that there should be more money available, but members of Congress are at odds on how to get it done. Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

The small business loans program is basically out of cash. What’s next?

David Brancaccio, Amy Scott, and Alex Schroeder Apr 16, 2020
There's bipartisan agreement over the fact that there should be more money available, but members of Congress are at odds on how to get it done. Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
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One of the key programs created by Congress to help small businesses and their workers get through this crisis is almost out of cash. The $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program has processed more than 1.6 million loans so far.

These are loans aimed at keeping workers on the payroll that are forgivable — so they become grants if a business meets the criteria. And members of Congress are at odds about how to get more aid to businesses.

Marketplace’s Amy Scott shared the details with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: First, where’d the money flow?

Amy Scott: Construction, professional and technical services and manufacturing industries have received the biggest share of money, more than $30 billion each. There are concerns that some of the hardest hit businesses like restaurants and hotels aren’t getting enough help. The geographic differences break down as follows: Texas and California, the two biggest states by population, have seen the most money. But New York, especially hard hit by the virus, came in fourth, behind Illinois.

Most loans have been $150,000 or less, but that goes fast. The Small Business Administration says it’s processed “more than 14 years’ worth of loans in less than 14 days.”

Brancaccio: What is Congress going to do now that this pot has essentially been depleted?

Scott: There is bipartisan agreement that there should be more money. Republicans want another $250 billion for the program, but Democrats want more strings attached, like specific help for women- and minority-owned businesses Also, there’s the problem of actually passing anything, with Congress working from home right now and unlikely to come back to Washington until next month.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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