What's most frustrating about PPP is that it wasted money yet still failed to reach all of the mom and pop shops that needed assistance. Its complicated rules, meant to ensure that firms spend most of their loan proceeds paying workers, make it a poor fit for some businesses, especially ones that are entirely shut down and don't want to recall their staff. According to the Census Bureau, a quarter of small businesses never even applied for the program, and as of now, $130 billion of PPP's total funding still remains untouched, even as many firms are shuttering permanently across the country. Congress could have justifiably spent even more money to build a simpler program providing a backstop to all businesses. Or it could have designed something narrower targeting businesses whose revenues plummeted during the crisis. Instead, it built something that gave a lot of money to the businesses that needed it least while hanging some that needed it most out to dry.

You can't blame Congress for not writing a perfect program on the fly in the middle of a global catastrophe. Lawmakers were hurriedly trying to stitch together a parachute for the economy while it was already in free fall. But even in March, there were other, potentially better models available. Much had already been written about Denmark's approach, which only covered pay for workers who were furloughed, and covered 100 percent of normal expenses for businesses like restaurants and hairdressers that were ordered closed. A similar program in the U.S. might have prevented law firm partners from pocketing subsidy dollars while also decreasing the political pressure on states to reopen early from business owners who were worried about covering their rent.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers do seem to have internalized some of these lessons. Because the pandemic is still raging and Congress now must pass another rescue bill, there's talk of renewing PPP going forward but limiting it to smaller businesses that can prove they have lost revenues. Documents circulating among Republicans suggest they're considering building out other programs to support small businesses that might have been poorly served by PPP. At least some senators are pushing for a plan that is better designed to save businesses that need to be totally or mostly shut down, like bars and theaters.

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