U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., met with business owners in metro Atlanta Wednesday, Aug. 19, to field input on the benefits and hurdles of a federal loan program set up to help struggling companies survive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The roundtable talk at Vinings Bank, which has lent millions to local businesses in recent months, came amid stalled talks in Congress over another trillion-dollar round of federal COVID-19 relief that would include additional loans via the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Perdue said after the talk that congressional Republicans and Democrats have “pretty much agreed” on another package of PPP loans totaling roughly $200 billion, with an emphasis on small businesses hit particularly hard by the virus’ economic impacts like restaurants.

“We think that will be enough to bridge this remainder, hopefully, for these small companies,” Perdue said.

PPP loans were doled out starting in April as an incentive to keep employees on the company payroll, with forgivable loans figuring as a major part of emergency measures aimed at propping up businesses as states shut down economic sectors in the pandemic’s early days.

As of Aug. 8, nearly 175,000 loans totaling more than $14.6 billion have been approved for businesses in Georgia, while more than 5.2 million loans worth roughly $525 billion have gone out nationwide, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The loan program stopped accepting new applications earlier this month per a legal deadline, though roughly $130 billion allocated for the program has yet to be spent.

Many businesses struggled with getting loan applications approved and have since faced uncertainty over whether their loans will be forgiven, Perdue said Wednesday, Aug. 19. Congress initially required businesses to spend 75% of the loans on payroll costs, then reduced that requirement to 60% in June.

Perdue said congressional lawmakers aim to clean up “murky” language in legislation authorizing more PPP loans that should help ease companies’ concerns over the forgiveness terms.

Resolving loan-forgiveness issues will be key for helping companies cope with PPP loans they have already received and those they may seek if more funding is approved for the program, said Clark Hungerford, president of Vinings Bank.

The Cobb County community bank has issued more than 750 loans totaling about $180 million since March to a range of companies from car dealerships and insurance firms to mom-and-pop shops and a convenience store chain, Hungerford said Wednesday, Aug. 19, after the roundtable talk.

Many small companies need federal officials to resolve forgiveness issues quickly so that their financial futures won’t be left up in the air amid indecision by Congress.

“It’s important to get these things forgiven,” Hungerford said. “The process for getting them forgiven is stopped. It doesn’t have to stop.”

Local companies that participated in the talk with Perdue included AMK Energy, The School Box, Wade Ford, Sojourn Church and Brokers Unlimited.

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