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When the Paycheck Protection Program went into effect, 73 local companies in the immediate coverage area of the Four Corners News-Sun signed up — not to mention dozens of neighboring companies with mailing addresses in Kissimmee or Clermont.

That helped support or save 2,803 local jobs in the immediate areas of Davenport, Haines City, ChampionsGate and Poinciana, according to data released last week by the Small Business Administration on the cases filed under the federal program.

New legislation being offered in the U.S. Senate right now could extend those provisions and/or provide more funding.

The Four Corners News-Sun benefitted from a loan through its parent company, D-R Media and Investments. President David Dunn-Rankin praised the program for allowing D-R Media to hold on to all of its employees.

“When the economy fell off a cliff in the second half of March we didn’t know what to do or what the future would entail,“ Dunn-Rankin said July 9. “So we kept all the staff but reduced wages until we could see if this downturn was a blip or the next Great Depression.”

He said advertising revenue dropped 42% in April suggesting the nation was entering another “Great Depression,” which would have prompted any business to batten down the hatches and reduce employee headcount to offset lost revenue.

“We have about 100 employees and the thought of that kind of potential layoff churned my stomach,” Dunn-Rankin said. “I believe great employees are the secret to business success.”

Instead, the company reduced print days on its daily paper, the Highlands News-Sun in Sebring, from seven to five and looked for other solutions.

“Fortunately for us, the Payroll Protection Plan passed and made money available to us,” Dunn-Rankin said. “This allowed us to restore everyone to full pay and keep 100% of our employees.”

He cautions that the local newspaper, local economy and national economy are not “out of the woods” just yet.

“Newspapers are a mirror of the small business community they serve,” Dunn-Rankin said. “We are still struggling, as is the country, to get back to normal.”

Fortunately, even though the money has expired, he said the shot of money the program provided to his company and so many other local businesses has made it possible to keep everyone employed.

The Paycheck Protection Program, put simply, was a single loan from the SBA to help small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll in the midst of economic downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mandatory shutdowns over the last two months, in an effort to reduce infection rates, reduced revenue for local businesses dependent on walk-in customers and, in the case of local newspapers, advertisement from those businesses.

As long as businesses meet employee retention criteria and the funds are used for eligible expenses, the SBA will forgive the loans.

Since the start of June, when many states started relaxing their shutdown rules and businesses have reopened, infection rates have rebounded. In some cases, as with Florida, those rates have dwarfed numbers that prompted the first shutdowns.

As some businesses, either voluntarily or by government order, have had to shut down again, there has been concern for a resurgence of layoffs or business closures.

To answer these concerns, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) have introduced the Reviving the Economy Sustainably Towards a Recovery in Twenty-twenty (RESTART) Act. It proposes extending the eight-week PPP compliance period to 16 weeks, adding another two months for the hardest-hit businesses — which have seen revenues decline by at least 25% — more time to meet requirements for loan forgiveness.

According to releases from the senators’ respective offices, the RESTART Act includes a new loan program to cover six months of payroll, benefits and fixed operating expenses for those hardest-hit businesses.

A portion of this new loan would get forgiven based on revenue losses suffered by the business in 2020. The rest would get repaid over the next seven years, with no interest payments due in the first year, and no principal payments due for the first two years.

The senators state that it’s designed to provide small- and medium-sized businesses with liquidity to get their businesses up and running again, and ensure that they receive loan forgiveness to help fill in the gap caused by revenue declines.

D-R Media publications contacted the offices of Florida Congress members for comment.

Nick Iacovella with Senator Marco Rubio’s office said Rubio, chair of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, has reconvened the bipartisan small business task force, which is currently working towards consensus on a final agreement for the next phase of small business support.

On the release of PPP data, Iacovella quoted Rubio as calling the program an “historic lifeline” for more than 4.8 million small businesses nationwide.

“It is clear that financial damage from the pandemic will continue to impact small businesses even as the economy reopens. To meet these changing conditions, PPP and additional long-term recovery capital must be the priority for the next relief package,” Rubio said. “I will continue to work with my colleagues on the small business task force to reach a bipartisan agreement on a targeted second round of PPP for underserved firms and for additional resources for long-term resiliency.”

Clare Lattanze, deputy press secretary for Senator Rick Scott, stated that he is reviewing every option to make sure individuals and small businesses hurt by the coronavirus are getting the help they need.

She said Scott is thankful that programs like the Paycheck Protection Program have helped so many small businesses in Florida and across the nation [to] “stay afloat during this unimaginable time. But companies that haven’t been harmed at all by the coronavirus crisis should not have the ability to receive taxpayer-funded loans that can be forgiven — which takes money away from those that truly need it.”

Lattanze said Scott has proposed an amendment to prohibit businesses who have not seen a downturn in their revenues from COVID-19 from being eligible for a Paycheck Protection Program loan.

She said he was disappointed it wasn’t included in the extension proposal, but he would continue working to make sure those that have been hurt by this crisis get the help they need.

The SBA resumed accepting PPP applications on July 6, and the new deadline to apply is Aug. 8, 2020. Read more at https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program.

Four Corners News-Sun Editor Steven Ryzewski contributed to this report.