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WASHINGTON — Only businesses with fewer than 20 employees — the overwhelming majority of small businesses — can apply for forgivable federal loans for a two-week period starting Wednesday, with $1 billion being carved out for single-owner businesses as part of the government's Paycheck Protection Program.

The majority of sole proprietorships, such as home contractors and beauticians, are owned by women and people of color.

Other efforts will remove a prohibition on lending to a company with at least 20% ownership by a person arrested or convicted for a nonfraud felony in the prior year, as well as allowing those behind on their federal student loans to seek relief through the program. The Biden administration also is clarifying that noncitizen legal residents can apply to the program.

The Biden effort is aimed at correcting disparities in how the program was administered by the Trump administration.

The PPP, first rolled out in the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic and renewed in December, was meant to help keep Americans employed during the economic downturn. It allows small and mid-size businesses suffering a loss of revenue to access federal loans, which are forgivable if 60% of the loan is spent on payroll and the balance on other qualified expenses.

The program, which began April 3 and ended Aug. 8 and handed out 5.2 million loans worth $525 billion, helped many businesses stay on their feet when government measures to control the coronavirus forced many to shut down or operate at a diminished capacity.

In Louisiana, more than $7.6 billion in loans went to nearly 78,000 businesses during that first round.

The latest PPP, which began on Jan. 11 and runs through the end of March, has already paid out $133.5 billion in loans — about half of the $284 billion allocated by Congress — with an average loan under $74,000. Accommodation and food services businesses accounted for 18% of total loans, followed by 13% for construction companies, and 11% for professional, scientific and technical services businesses.

More than 25,100 organizations in Louisiana have been approved for $2.02 billion of the latest round of funding through Feb. 15.

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More than $2 billion in new 'paycheck protection' loans approved in Louisiana

National data from the Paycheck Protection Program released Dec. 1 from the first round of the program and analyzed by The Associated Press show that many minority owners desperate for a relief loan didn’t receive one until the PPP’s last few weeks while many more white business owners were able to get loans earlier in the program.

President Joe Biden says a lot of mom and pop businesses “got muscled out of the way” by larger businesses seeking federal money in the early days of the pandemic. He said changes taking effect Wednesday will provide long overdue aid to these smaller enterprises that he says are being “crushed” by the pandemic-driven economic downturn.

"America’s small businesses are hurting, hurting badly and they need help now,” Biden said.

These industries got major 'paycheck protection' funds in Louisiana; see the list

Restaurants and other hard-hit businesses, which have been operating with limited capacity for months, could seek a forgivable loan up to 3.5 times monthly payroll costs. All other businesses could get up to 2.5 times monthly payroll. Applications are due by March 31. Businesses have 24 weeks to spend the money.

PPP loan 'was a godsend' for these Baton Rouge businesses. Will they apply for the second round?

Struggling businesses in Louisiana look to PPP loan for more support as economic recession lingers


Staff writer Kristen Mosbrucker and Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.