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Government nears lending limit on small business program

Vet tech Ashley Kultau, left, and Dr. Marisa Shulman check out Orik at Riverview Animal Hospital on Thursday, April 9, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. With a 25% drop in business due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Tai Federico, owner of Riverivew Animal Hospital, has applied for a federal paycheck protection loan to help keep his full staff employed. (C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)
Vet tech Ashley Kultau, left, and Dr. Marisa Shulman check out Orik at Riverview Animal Hospital on Thursday, April 9, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. With a 25% drop in business due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Tai Federico, owner of Riverivew Animal Hospital, has applied for a federal paycheck protection loan to help keep his full staff employed. (C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP) (Chattanooga Times Free Press)

NEW YORK – The government is approaching the $349 billion lending limit on its Paycheck Protection Program that is funneling relief money to the nation’s small businesses.

The Small Business Administration says that as of Wednesday afternoon, it had approved more than 1.44 million loans totaling more than $311 billion — up more than $50 billion since Monday. The Trump administration has asked Congress, which set the original ceiling, for another $250 billion for the program. However, that request has stalled in the Senate.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Small Business Administration head Jovita Carranza on Wednesday urged Congress to appropriate more funds. The SBA has processed more than 14 years’ worth of loans in less than 14 days, they said.

“We want every eligible small business to participate and get the resources they need,” two said in a joint statement.

A breakdown of the loans on the SBA website showed that as of Monday, the average loan size was $239,152, and 70% of the loans were for $150,000 and under— an amount likely sought by very small companies. At that point, loans worth $247.5 billion had been approved.

Construction firms were approved for the largest share of the loans, nearly 14%, or $34 billion. Many companies in construction are small, local or regional businesses. In second place were companies that provide professional, scientific and technical services, with 12.3% or $30.35 billion, and manufacturers were in third place with 12.25%, or $30.32 billion

Health care and social assistance companies were in fourth place about $28 billion in loans, and No. 5 was lodging and food services, with nearly $23 billion.

An email to the SBA seeking comment about the status of the program was not immediately answered.

It’s unclear how much money has actually been distributed from the program, which launched April 3. Thousands of business owners are still awaiting word on their loan applications.

The country’s most populous states had the most loans. Texas had the most loans although it is the second-largest state; it had over 88,000 loans worth nearly $21.8 billion. California, No. 1 in population, was second in loans, with nearly 55,000 worth nearly $20.9 billion.

Florida, third in population was also third in loans, getting just over 52,000 worth nearly $12.7 billion. New York, fourth in population and loans, had nearly 41,000 worth $11.7 billion.

But Ohio, seventh in population, was No. 5 in loans with 38,000 worth nearly $10.4 billion.