WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate unanimously voted on Tuesday to extend a $660 billion lending program in an effort to help small businesses that have been hit hard by the coronavirus, extending a lifeline just as it was due to expire.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives must also approve the extension, which would keep the Paycheck Protection Program operating through August 8.

The measure passed unanimously in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have been at odds over what additional steps are needed to help people, businesses and local governments cope with a pandemic that has sickened more than 2.6 million Americans and killed more than 127,000.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers that a full economic recovery is unlikely until people feel safe going out and about. Congress has signed off on roughly $3 trillion in aid so far, but Powell and other Fed policymakers have said more will be needed.

The Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration have handed out $515 billion since April to help cash-strapped companies make rent and keep workers employed.

Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Shri Navaratnam

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