Senate Democrats halted a Republican effort to add $250 billion to the highly popular Paycheck Protection Program for farms and small businesses, saying the measure failed to address other, more urgent needs. 

Banks have been swamped with requests for the PPP forgivable loans, which are essentially grants as long as businesses use most of the money to retain and rehire workers. Businesses, including farms, can get a loan worth up to 2.5 times their monthly payroll. 

The program was established with $349 billion in the $2 trillion economic stimulus bill, called the CARES Act, enacted March 27. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried to move the $250 billion replenishment bill by unanimous consent. “Just a few days after the program opened for business, $100 billion in loans have already been committed,” McConnell said. "That is 30% of the total funding spoken for in just the first few days. … We need more funding and we need it fast.”

The program’s chief sponsor, Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, said that $3.5 billion an hour is being committed under the program. 

But Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., raised an objection to the GOP bill, calling it a political stunt, and said the PPP had enough money for now.  “Today applications are being processed. Tomorrow applications are going to be processed. The day after that applications are going to be processed, because we provided $350 billion," Cardin said.

Cardin offered a counter-proposal, immediately blocked by McConnell, that included additional funding for PPP and other Small Business Administration loans, including making agriculture eligible for SBA’s low-interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans. The Democratic proposal also would increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by 15% and provide more money for health care providers. 

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Asked by a reporter why he insisted on addressing only PPP, he said,  “No one is necessarily against additional assistance (elsewhere) ... This is the one program whose running out of money, needed assistance now.”

USDA this week posted answers to questions about the hugely popular $349 billion forgivable loan program being run by the Small Business Administration. 

There have been continued reports of farmers being denied access to the Paycheck Protection Program. But USDA’s FAQ makes clear that farmers can apply: “Agricultural producers, farmers, and ranchers with 500 or fewer employees whose principal place of residence is in the United States are eligible.”

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