Back in April, when the U.S. Small Business Administration was approving about $25 billion in coronavirus loans a day, lawmakers and companies were concerned that $669 billion in relief would run dry, leaving countless mom-and-pop firms hanging.

Yet the Paycheck Protection Program had more than $100 billion in funding left as of last Saturday, with only days remaining until the SBA stops taking new applications on June 30.

The PPP loans were a lifeline for the more than 4.7 million companies that got assistance -- with an unprecedented $516.5 billion approved over two rounds in less than three months. Still, demand waned after an initial barrage, and about $38.5 billion worth of loans were canceled as of May 31, likely from owners returning them and duplicates. Millions of the smallest and most vulnerable firms also didn’t know they were eligible or didn’t apply because the complicated program didn’t meet their needs.

Now, there’s debate in Congress about what to do with the leftover PPP money, and how to reach those businesses as the economy reopens in the midst of new virus outbreaks across the country.

“There’s strong bipartisan interest in protecting the funds that have been appropriated to develop a second round, but to have it targeted more to those small businesses that really need the help,” Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee, said in a phone interview. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the panel’s chairman, has also suggested another phase of targeted relief.

Having leftover funds is a surprising outcome for the PPP program, the centerpiece of the $2.2 trillion relief package Congress enacted in March in response to the pandemic.

It’s a testament to both its success and its limits. The criteria to turn the debt into a grant, chiefly by spending a large chunk of the money on payroll, suited larger firms better than mom-and-pop stores and the self-employed. The PPP loans, disbursed via approved lenders, also were harder to get for businesses in low-income communities that often are shut out of the traditional banking system.

The initial $349 billion in PPP funding for forgivable loans was depleted in just 13 days, and almost $189 billion of a second round of $320 billion was tapped in the first two weeks after the program relaunched April 27. The program, designed for the 30 million U.S. businesses that have fewer than 500 employees, has stalled since mid-May, leaving about $128 billion available as of June 20, according to the SBA.

Whatever remains after the final applications are processed will be returned to the Treasury unless Congress acts to re-purpose them. The SBA and Treasury Department are “focused on ensuring that small businesses and non-profits in underserved communities access the program with the remaining PPP funds and time,” the agency said in a statement.

Cardin has proposed a bill with Democratic Senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire that would extend the application deadline to Dec. 31 or longer. It would also create a new option for a second loan for borrowers with fewer than 100 employees that have lost at least half their revenue due to the pandemic.

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