A relief program that threw a critical lifeline to small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic is responsible for a "majority" of the jobs created since May, according to Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza.
The $670 billion Paycheck Protection Program, created when Congress passed the CARES Act at the end of March, officially closed to new applicants on Saturday.
"I would say the majority of the 9.3 million jobs that have been retained are attributable to small businesses," Carranza said during an interview with FOX Business' Edward Lawrence.
Since the program launched at the beginning of April, more than 5.2 million loans worth about $525 billion had been distributed, according to Carranza. The program has helped to save an estimated 51 million jobs.
"This Paycheck Protection Program sustained the small business economy," Carranza said. "It also protected the employers' and the employees' wages. The Paycheck Protection Program was essential to sustaining and mobilizing our national economy."
There's roughly $135 billion remaining in the fund.
As Democratic leaders and White House officials struggle to negotiate the next round of emergency aid, some lawmakers are debating what to do with the leftover PPP money amid a resurgence in COVID-19 cases and a fresh round of business shutdowns that are threatening to slow -- or reverse -- the economy's gradual recovery.
Under a $1 trillion stimulus proposal unveiled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week, the money would be repurposed for more targeted aid to the hardest-hit small businesses, which would be eligible to apply for a second PPP loan.
Businesses that have seen their revenue decline by 50% or more in the first or second quarter of this year (compared to last year) could dip into the PPP for a second loan.
The aid would be limited to businesses with no more than 300 employees, down from the original 500-worker limit established in the CARES Act. A portion of the money would be set aside for businesses with fewer than 10 workers.
The proposal, drafted by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would also ease some of the restrictions on the taxpayer-funded money. For instance, businesses would be allowed to use the loan to purchase personal protective equipment for workers, investments the senators said are needed to ensure the owners can run their businesses safely during the pandemic.
Rubio and Collins have urged Congress to act unanimously on the PPP extension as talks on a broader stimulus bill crawl along.
"I believe that the president and also the cabinet are earnestly working towards providing another lifeline, an emergency financial lifeline to small businesses," Carranza said.
There's a fear that once the PPP money fades, small businesses could see a wave of layoffs: According to a recent survey released by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, 14% of the companies that received PPP aid are considering laying off employees once they deplete the money. At least 70,000 of those businesses anticipate laying off at least 10 workers apiece.