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U.S. senators attempt to advance bill lengthening coronavirus business loan terms

WASHINGTON, May 21 (Reuters) - Negotiators in the U.S. Senate reached agreement on Thursday on legislation increasing the amount of time, to 16 weeks from the current eight-week deadline, for small businesses to use Paycheck Protection Program loans, according a Senate aide.

The legislation, which attempts to make revisions to a program created in late March to help small businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, also would extend the deadline for applying for the loans until Dec. 31, from the current June 30.

Republican Senator Susan Collins said the legislation was being introduced in the Senate just before lawmakers were hoping to go on a week-long recess.

It was not yet clear whether backers would be able to rush the measure through the Senate on Thursday with the needed unanimous consent of all senators.

The legislation, which also would have to be passed by the House of Representatives, would give small businesses more flexibility in the use of funds, such as for buying personal protective equipment for workers and other revisions of facilities to help control the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

A House bill seeks a 24-week time frame for using the loans, which can be converted to grants if the businesses meet all requirements.

Many small businesses are finding they cannot meet the current eight-week requirement of the loan.

A total of $659 billion has been provided by Congress for the loan program, which is part of broader coronavirus emergency aid totaling around $3 trillion so far.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Dan Grebler)