Small Business Loan Program Depleted as Congress Stalls

WASHINGTON (BP) — Money for a small business loan program that many churches applied for has been exhausted while Congress remains in a deadlock over more funding.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced April 15 it could no longer accept applications for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) because the $349 billion designated in a coronavirus (COVID-19) relief package enacted in late March is depleted.

The announcement came a day before the White House released guidelines for reopening the American economy. The plan issued Thursday (April 16) calls for a three-phase approach intended to guide state and local officials in determining when to lift some restrictions now in place on individuals, businesses and organizations.

Meanwhile, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) said it would continue its effort to include a provision in a future coronavirus relief bill to encourage giving to churches and other non-profit organizations.

The PPP gained congressional approval as part of a $2 trillion measure designed to provide help to a broad swath of American society — including workers, small businesses, state and local governments, hospitals and educational institutions — while social-distancing and stay-at-home initiatives are in effect to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The pandemic has resulted in nearly 680,000 confirmed cases and more than 34,000 deaths in this country as of 1:38 p.m. EDT Friday (April 17), according to Johns Hopkins University.

Republican leaders in Congress sought to pass legislation April 9 to add $251 billion in loan guarantees to the PPP, but Democrats blocked the effort in the Senate. Democratic leaders want to add funding to the bill for other concerns, including state and local governments, as well as hospitals.

If the parties eventually come to an agreement on the PPP, it is still expected Congress will seek to pass another phase of relief funding for an economy that has now seen about 22 million Americans file for unemployment benefits in four weeks’ time.

It is uncertain how many Southern Baptist churches applied for PPP loans, which are designed to help small businesses — including non-profit organizations — retain employees and are forgivable if workers are still paid for eight weeks.

The ERLC has not advocated for the PPP in Congress because it desires for each church to be guided by its conscience in deciding whether to seek a loan. After the PPP was enacted, the ERLC provided guidance regarding the religious freedom implications of the program.

ERLC President Russell Moore said he does not believe “there’s a religious liberty or union of church and state problem here.”

“What is happening here is a guaranteeing and backing up of a loan that the government has an interest in because they want to keep the flow of lending going and keep the economy afloat,” Moore said in a Facebook Live interview April 15 with Baptist Press. “A church that’s taking out this loan is no more taking a benefit than a church who calls the fire department when the church is on fire.”

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Source: Baptist Press