U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) delivers remarks during a weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 28, 2020.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

The House passed a bill Thursday designed to give small businesses owners more flexibility in how they spend money from a key coronavirus aid program. 

The chamber approved the legislation in a nearly unanimous 417-1 vote. The Senate has put forward a plan similar to the House bill, but has not yet passed it. Senators will not convene again until next week.

The Paycheck Protection Program, one of the core parts of the $2 trillion pandemic rescue package passed in March, includes standards for how companies have to use their loans in order to get them forgiven. The measure passed Thursday would ease those rules. 

The plan would: 

  • Reduce the share of aid money small business are required to spend on payroll from 75% to 60% (the PPP’s architects aimed to encourage companies to keep workers employed)
  • Extend the window businesses have to use the funds from two months to six months 
  • Push back a June 30 deadline to rehire workers 
  • Extend the time recipients have to repay the loan
  • Let companies that get loan forgiveness defer payroll taxes 

Democrats and Republicans approved the tweaks to the small business loan program as they struggle to find a consensus on the next phase of relief from the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic. Democrats want a broad package to give relief to state and local governments, send more direct payments to individuals and extend an enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefit. 

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As the GOP questions the need to spend more taxpayer money on recovery efforts, it has pushed for liability protections for businesses and doctors as most of the country restarts commerce. Democrats have criticized the potential for a broad shield from lawsuits. 

Congress first injected $350 billion into the small business loan program in March. After that money quickly dried up, lawmakers put another $310 billion into the PPP — with $60 billion devoted to small lenders. 

After a chaotic rollout of the massive program, critics said it did not do enough to help businesses that did not have an existing banking relationship. 

The House for the second straight day used a remote proxy voting system implemented temporarily during the coronavirus crisis to keep lawmakers safe. Dozens of representatives voted on the bill through a proxy Thursday. 

Republicans have challenged the method in court, calling it unconstitutional. 

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Via CNBC