The loan approvals have become a lengthy affair this year because of new SBA fraud reviews that have delayed thousands of applications for weeks at a time. Some banks, including Bank of America, have stopped accepting applications because of concerns about clearing the loans through the SBA before March 31.

The deadline also threatened to limit the number of businesses that could take advantage of new Biden administration rules designed to expand PPP access to the self-employed as well as business owners with felony convictions and federal student loan delinquencies.

The hurried bipartisan effort on the heels of a major party-line fight over President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan underscored a growing sense of urgency to address the PPP deadline.

In a statement, Cardin said, “it’s clear that the most vulnerable small businesses will need help beyond March 31, so we must pass this extension as quickly as possible.”

Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.), who introduced the extension proposal in the House, said the authors of the bill had “extensive conversations” with their Senate counterparts before offering the legislation.

“There is a very broad recognition we need to give our lenders and our small businesses another two months,” Bourdeaux said in an interview.

The National Federation of Independent Business said in survey results this week that the number of small-business owners expecting better conditions over the next six months was increasing but that major challenges remain. The group found that 40 percent of small-business owners in February reported job openings that could not be filled, with significant numbers of people staying home to care for family and to protect themselves from Covid-19.

“The economic recovery remains uneven for small businesses, especially those still managing state and local regulations and restrictions,” said Bill Dunkelberg, the group’s chief economist. “Congress and the Biden administration must keep small businesses a priority as they plan future policy legislation.”

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