The Senate approves the extension of the Payment Check Protection Program until August 8, hours before the deadline

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The move to keep the application process open for the program comes when it expires with more than $ 130 billion in allocated funds remaining unused. The program was designed to offer small business loans to close closings and help companies keep employees on the job, and in turn, loans taken would be forgiven, essentially switching to a grant.

More than 4.8 million small business owners have used the program, which was designed as a bridge for companies to maintain their payrolls during the worst of the pandemic.

While faced with a rocky deployment and dozens of changes and new rules in their early stages, more than $ 520 billion has been deployed to keep small businesses afloat.

Tuesday's extension was a surprise, even to Democrats who forced action on the floor. While there were discussions on how to move the deadline, there were no substantive moves toward an agreement until shortly before it actually hit the ground.

"The resources are there, the need is there, we just need to change the date," Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Small Business Committee, said in the Senate.

The bill, proposed by Senate Democrats, was passed unanimously.

The Democratic-led House would still need to act on the extension.

That money has become the focus of negotiations during the next round of aid to small businesses, which has been the subject of bipartisan debates in recent days.

Cardin noted that the extension lines up with the end of the next Senate work period, which is the same timeline that Senate Republicans have set to complete the next round of stimulus.

Small businesses leave $ 130 billion in emergency aid intact and call on Congress to reconsider aid

Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican negotiator, said he had no objection to the extension, "but the vast majority of small businesses that wanted to benefit from the program have already used it."

"What we really need to approve very soon is targeted aid for those who need a second round of aid," Rubio tweeted Tuesday night.

The extension does not end ongoing talks, and given the relative lack of interest in the $ 660 billion program in recent weeks based on total loan data, the extended period is unlikely to drain available funds.

But it would keep the central federal lifeline open for small businesses as lawmakers seek agreement on next steps.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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