FILE - U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

(The Center Square) – The $908 billion pandemic stimulus compromise package being discussed in the U.S. Senate is a hopeful sign of progress, Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said, but it won’t garner his support until more assistance is tabbed for small businesses.

The four-month emergency package introduced Tuesday by a bipartisan coalition of senators and House representatives on Capitol Hill would fund transportation, food assistance, coronavirus testing centers and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) crafted by Rubio’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Senate Committee to help businesses pay their employees during shutdowns rather than lay them off.

After adopting the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March, House Democrats and Senate Republicans have failed since July to approve another stimulus package.

The $908 billion compromise measure would allocate $288 billion for a PPP extension. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s counteroffer is a $500 billion package that includes $255 billion for PPP.

House Democrats passed in October the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act, which has gained little traction in negotiations with the Senate. It also earmarks $288 billion for PPP while allowing expenses paid for with PPP funds to be tax deductible.

Congress needs to pass a budget by Dec. 11 to avoid a federal shutdown. The compromise measure presented this week would expire March 31.

It is crucial for small businesses that Congress adopts an assistance package before year’s end, Rubio said in a statement, applauding “my colleagues for coming together to provide a COVID Relief Framework, including a much-needed second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses.”

Whatever stimulus package emerges must allocate far more than $300 billion to reactivating and extending the PPP, he said, and replicate the $700 billion in PPP funding authorized under the CARES Act.

“It is important to note that at its current (funding) level, the proposal barely provides enough to fund a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans, and does not provide sufficient funds to help small businesses, restaurants, entertainment venues, and others to help them weather the second wave,” Rubio said. “It should have happened this summer. It needed to happen this fall. Enough is enough. Let’s get this done.”

In addition to more PPP money, Rubio called for more funding for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL).

PPP was designed partially by the Senate Small Business panel Rubio chairs as a forgivable government loan to small businesses affected by the pandemic. Essentially, businesses that employ 500 or fewer people can use the loans to cover payroll and business expenses. In many instances, if they sustain payroll and expenses, they don’t need to repay the loans.

According to data on borrowers and loan amounts released by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) this week, nearly 423,000 Florida businesses used $32 billion in PPP loans authorized under the CARES Act to pay the salaries of 3.3 million Florida workers between April and November.

That’s nearly one-third more than the 2.12 million newly jobless Floridians who applied for unemployment benefits during the same time span.

Florida businesses received 381,455 PPP loans under $150,000 each, totaling around $11 billion, and 41,686 Florida businesses received PPP loans of more than $150,000, totaling $20.7 billion, according to the SBA.

“It’s clear that the PPP has been the most successful piece of the bipartisan CARES Act, and it’s great news that so many Florida small businesses were able to take advantage of this historic lifeline to prevent from closing and to keep their employees paid,” Rubio said in a statement to the Miami Herald.