Rural hospitals are in dire straits. Photo: Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Small hospitals going through bankruptcy are suing the Small Business Administration, arguing it is unlawful for the federal government to deny them loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.

Why it matters: Allowing bankrupt hospitals access to PPP loans could keep their doors open, and could force the federal government to reverse its stance and allow other bankrupt firms to get PPP loans.

Driving the news: Faith Community Health System, a small rural hospital in Texas that filed for bankruptcy in February, sued the SBA Thursday.

  • The hospital wants to apply for a $2.4 million PPP loan to pay staff and remain open while it goes through bankruptcy and handles the coronavirus pandemic.
  • However, the SBA says bankrupt companies will not be approved for the bailout money because of their "high risk."
  • Faith Community argues the government agency doesn't have the authority to exclude bankrupt firms from PPP funding because the law doesn't spell out those eligibility requirements.

The big picture: Courts are starting to take hospitals' side.

  • A bankruptcy judge in Maine said the funding was a "grant of aid necessitated by a public health crisis," and that two hospitals that sued the federal government are entitled to PPP loans.
  • A separate bankrupt hospital in Vermont also should be eligible for PPP funds, a judge ruled this week.

The bottom line: Rural hospitals have been in dire straits for years, and for those that are on the precipice of or are going through bankruptcy, they may be eligible for this bailout funding despite SBA exclusions.

  • But bankrupt firms could still be in a bind if the government tries to "run out the clock" on these types of legal battles by waiting for the PPP funding pool to dry up.

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