Small businesses can use PPP for masks and reopen issues like sneeze guard

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Assistant store manager Jesus Alvarez calls groceries behind a new plexiglass barrier at Ralphs Kroger grocery store after California placed a stay at home order to help prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Los Angeles.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

The U.S. small business aid program could be modified to allow borrowers to use their loans to buy personal protective equipment for workers and pay for upgrades needed to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, according to documents received from CNBC.

The proposed bill, a bipartisan initiative led by Senator Marco Rubio, chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, would give small business owners more flexibility in using the loans and address several ongoing complaints about the $ 660 billion effort.

The shutdowns in parts of the country hardest hit by the coronavirus took longer than expected when the paycheck protection program was put in place, causing business owners to question the effectiveness of the program. The PPP is an important part of the government’s response to the economic disruption caused by the pandemic.

The bill extends the time window in which borrowers can use the funds from the current eight to 16 weeks and moves the deadline for applying for the program to December 31 from the current June 30, according to a bill called the Paycheck Protection Program Extension Act.

It would also allow borrowers to use loan funds to purchase personal protective equipment for employees and pay for adaptive investments necessary for a safe reopening, according to a summary of the bill.

These “adaptive investments include modifications to a commercial property to meet guidelines from the CDC and other relevant federal agencies” and may include “the creation or expansion of a drive-through window, physical barriers such as sneeze protection, ventilation system upgrades, etc.”

As it is currently structured, borrowers must use their PPP loans for payroll and other approved expenses such as mortgage interest to waive the loans.

The bill also clarifies that borrowers who have maintained their payroll for eight weeks will not forego loan waiver due to the extension, and ensures that lenders are not held liable for the borrower’s certificates issued on the loans.

While lawmakers backing the bill were hoping it would be voted late Thursday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell ended the session without a vote and postpones the earliest opportunity to June 1, NBC News reported. In the meantime, the House of Representatives can vote on its own efforts to set PPP next week, which will give borrowers 24 weeks to use the funds.

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