WASHINGTON -- The Paycheck Protection Program stood out as an early success of the government's pandemic relief effort, but it ended with a whimper and left billions of dollars unallocated when small businesses got spooked by the ever-changing rules.
Even as Democrats and Republicans fight over other aspects of another major stimulus bill, they have largely agreed on how to revamp the PPP to restore its popularity and usefulness.
But groups representing the smallest business owners -- independent contractors, the self-employed and minority-owned businesses who complained they were largely shut out of the earlier rounds of funding and for whom these changes are meant to help -- are already questioning whether it will be enough.
For starters, they note that both the old and the proposed new PPP are run by the Small Business Administration, which works with businesses with as many as 500 workers, has less experience with companies with fewer than 100, and almost none with those with one or a handful of employees.
The bulk of America's small businesses have fewer than 20 employees, but they didn't get the bulk of the earlier PPP money and aren't sure they'll do better under a revised program still run by the SBA, advocates say.
"The vast majority of business owners who need and want to be able to access PPP are not the typical SBA small-business borrowers," said Katie Vlietstra, vice president for the National Assn. for the Self-Employed.
For small businesses that already received one of the forgivable PPP loans, there is some good news about a possible PPP relaunch: They may be able to get a second loan, something not permitted in the original rules. That could be a lifeline for businesses that burned through the initial 24 weeks of payroll support.
"The expectation, I think, when all this was done months ago was that we'd be out of this crisis by now," said Alfredo Ortiz, president of Job Creators Network, a small-business advocacy group. "These small-business owners are just running out of cash."
In total, more than 5.1 million businesses got PPP funds before lending ended Aug. 8. The government says 51 million jobs were saved. S&P Global estimates it is closer to 13.6 million.
When the program began, $349 billion flowed out the door in less than two weeks. But the early successes were soon replaced by outrage and confusion. The public was frustrated to hear of large publicly traded companies like Potbelly or Shake Shack receiving loans.