White House in talks to add $250bn to small business fund


The Trump administration is in talks with US senators for an additional $200bn to fund loans for small businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and Senate majority leader, said on Tuesday that the small business rescue programme should urgently be expanded beyond the $350bn currently allocated, given the high level of demand.

“Thanks to the hard work of small businesses and lenders, billions of dollars have already landed and tens of billions more are already in the pipeline,” Mr McConnell said. “Jobs are literally being saved as we speak. But it is quickly becoming clear that Congress will need to provide more funding or this crucial program may run dry.”

Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican senator and chairman of the small business committee, tweeted that he was working with the US Treasury on a request to Congress for more money. He said he believed an additional $200bn to $250bn was needed.

The Treasury department declined to comment. Trump administration officials, including the US president, have consistently said they were ready to replenish the fund if necessary.

The programme, which allows small businesses to receive loans backed by the Small Business Administration and keep the money if they retain the bulk of their workforce, was a key pillar of the $2tn stimulus package passed into law last month.

Since the programme was launched last Friday, lenders and the SBA have struggled to keep up with the demand.

Mr Rubio said that the SBA programme was “still having some problems, but steadily improving”. He expressed confidence that lenders would support the extra capacity.

Banks have been under pressure to extend credit under the programme. A group of senior Wall Street executives is expected to hold a videoconference on Tuesday afternoon with Donald Trump, the US president, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, to discuss the pace of applications.

The chief executives of Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and Citigroup are among those expected to join the meeting, along with Gordon Smith, co-president of JPMorgan Chase.

A White House official said that other expected participants included executives from Visa, Mastercard, Bank of America, Grand Rapids State Bank, Southern Bancorp and Community Spirit Bank.

In a note published on Chase’s website on Tuesday, business banking head Jennifer Roberts told clients: “We urge you to act quickly if you’re interested because SBA funds are limited.”

Chase, whose US branch network is second only to Wells Fargo’s, had been expecting a surge in applications after its new online application process launched late on Monday. The bank would not give details of how many applications it had received. BofA was up to 212,000 applications totalling $36bn by Monday evening, but could not say how many it had processed. 

Citi’s portal was still not live by noon on Tuesday. “While we are working as quickly as we can, we are not yet able to accept applications for the Paycheck Protection Program,” the bank said on a note on its website. “Our branch and call centre representatives do not have any additional information at this time.”

A spokesman could not immediately give guidance on when its system might be operational. 

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