The rules regarding Paycheck Protection Program loans could change drastically from the Treasury's initial guidance.
That's according to Neil Bradley, U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive vice president and chief policy officer. Bradley was speaking with Inc. editor-at-large Kimberly Weisul at Friday's National Small Business Town Hall, the latest in a series of weekly webinars aimed at informing business owners about the resources available to them during the coronavirus pandemic.
Congress is currently discussing another stimulus bill, which is likely to include changes to aspects of the Cares Act. One of the more significant proposed changes is an expansion of the time frame in which business owners must use their loans to be eligible for maximum forgiveness. Bradley said the House of Representatives is proposing expanding the window, which begins the day the business receives the loan, from eight weeks to 24.
Bradley also said Congress is considering changing the requirement that business owners use at least 75 percent of their PPP loans for payroll expenses in order to be eligible for full forgiveness.
"There's bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill that that rule imposed by the Treasury is a bad rule," he said, adding that it's likely to be changed. The rules regarding the kinds of expenses the loans can be used for--payroll, rent, utilities, and interest on debt--are not likely to change though, he said.
Some business owners have complained that it's difficult to bring back employees they've laid off given the generous unemployment benefits included in the Cares Act. The legislation grants laid-off employees $600 per week in addition to their local unemployment benefits, which together in some cases can exceed their regular wages. That perk is currently set to expire at the end of July.
The rule has been a point of contention between House Republicans and Democrats. "I think it's highly unlikely Congress comes to an agreement that simply extends that $600 a week," Bradley said.
Another aspect of the new bill being discussed is safe harbor laws. If they were to be enacted, as long as a business makes a good faith effort to adhere to safety guidelines, customers, employees, and vendors couldn't sue claiming they became sick there.
Bradley added that the current tranche of PPP money has lasted longer than many, including the Chamber, had expected. That's in part because the size of the average loan has dropped drastically, from more than $200,000 in the first phase to $73,000 in the second.
When asked whether business owners who haven't yet applied for a PPP loan should wait until they're closer to reopening to do so, Bradley said that strategy might make sense--but it's risky.
"We don't know how quickly it's going to run out," he said. "The program could run out next week, the following week. It all depends on what businesses are doing."