The U.S. Senate on Tuesday evening approved the $484 billion so-called "CARES 2.0" emergency relief legislation by unanimous consent. Earlier in the day, congressional leaders arrived at a deal to provide additional funds for both the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program as well as to expand eligibility for the EIDL program to include agricultural enterprises with fewer than 500 employees.
Specifically, the passage includes $310 billion in additional funding for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) PPP. Of this amount, $60 billion is set aside for small lenders and community-based financial institutions that serve the needs of unbanked/underserved small businesses, specifically: $30 billion for loans made by insured depository institutions and credit unions that have assets between $10 billion and $50 billion, and $30 billion for loans made by community financial institutions, small insured depository institutions and credit unions with assets of less than $10 billion.
Importantly, the bill also includes $50 billion in additional funds for economic injury disaster loans, $10 billion for emergency economic injury grants, $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion to expand coronavirus testing.
The PPP was established last month in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security (CARES) Act to support small businesses affected by the economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of mid-April, the $349 billion for the PPP had already been depleted, and only 2.8% of all approved applications went to the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector, comprising just 1.2% of total funds.
The PPP provides forgivable SBA loans of up to $10 million for small businesses to cover eight weeks of payroll, group health care benefits, lease payments and mortgage interest.
Authorizing language was included to allow agricultural enterprises -- as defined by section 18(b) of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 647(b)) -- with no more than 500 employees to receive EIDL grants and loans.
“Today, the Senate reached an agreement that gives farmers and ranchers a fair shot at applying for Economic Injury Disaster Loans -- a concern I’ve heard direct from farm country,” Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell thanked Roberts on the Senate floor Tuesday, saying “because of the hard work of Sen. Roberts, … it will be clear that farmers and ranchers are eligible [for Economic Injury Disaster Loans].”
“I thank Leader McConnell for recognizing the importance of opening up this program to farmers and ranchers,” Roberts said.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Michael Conaway (R., Texas) said regarding the news, “It is encouraging news that we are making another tool available to U.S. agricultural producers through the EIDL program. Farmers and ranchers have suffered economic injury and need every bit of help they can get. This new eligibility, while urgently critical, is no substitute for a comprehensive, fully funded relief program through the Department of Agriculture.”
The House is expected to take up the bill on Thursday.
Ethan Lane, National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. vice president of government affairs, said, “We urge the House of Representatives to move swiftly to approve this package and deliver these funds to producers across the country who are continuing to keep grocery store shelves full during this economic disaster."