Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Small businesses make up 99 percent of businesses in Oklahoma and employ 52 percent of our state’s workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged our communities in ways we have never seen before and our small businesses have been among the hardest hit. Between closing non-essential businesses and reducing services to help slow the spread, small businesses have been forced to make tough decisions.

Congress acted to help suffering small business owners and their employees. In the CARES Act, we created the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable loans to small businesses who keep their employees on payroll. The Small Business Administration approved more than 1.6 million loans worth $349 billion before the program ran out of funding. That’s 14 years-worth of loans processed in 14 days.

In Oklahoma, 35,557 small businesses received PPP loans totaling over $4.6 billion. These funds help businesses, like Ruth Kelly Studio in Muskogee, keep their doors open and their employees at work.

The program ran out of funding and small business owners were not able to apply for these lifesaving loans. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer played politics with peoples’ livelihoods and blocked an attempt two weeks ago before it ran out of money to appropriate additional funding because it didn’t include their own liberal wish-list.

After this unnecessary delay, Congress has finally reached a bipartisan agreement for an additional $310 billion for the PPP and President Trump is expected to sign it into law as soon as it passes. This will help small businesses who were left out get the funds they need.

The Heavy Metal Training Institute, the only trucking driving school in northeastern Oklahoma, has CDL training facilities in Vinita and Tahlequah. With a PPP loan, they will be able to rehire eight employees. Cowboy Junction Church and School in Vinita has been forced to reduce staff to care for students whose parents are essential workers in the community and need childcare. They will be able to rehire five teacher’s aides they have laid off once their PPP loan is approved.

As a small business owner, I know how important this program is to our communities. It is a lifeline for not only the business owner, but also for the hundreds of thousands of families who depend on them for their paycheck. Every day counts during a pandemic and delaying this additional funding only hurts them. I am relieved that we reached an agreement, but we can’t afford to put politics over paychecks again.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) represents the second district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached through http://mullin.house.gov, and at 811-A N York St., Muskogee, OK 74403, 918-687-2533 or 202-225-2701.