Small Business Owners Frustrated With Delays In Obtaining Rescue Loans: NPR
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Greg Hunnicutt has almost completely shut down his Houston-based construction business. On its only remaining site, it is working to minimize the risk of anyone being exposed to the coronavirus. It therefore keeps fewer workers at work.
“My electrician is over there doing work,” he said. “It’s just him and his assistant. So what I’m trying to accomplish here is reduce the way people interact.”
With his income greatly reduced, Hunnicutt needs more funds, and quickly. He contacted NPR on Friday, when the Small Business Administration’s coronavirus crisis loan program opened. At the time, he was having trouble going online to apply for an SBA loan from his bank, Wells Fargo. I asked him this week how it was going.
“Well, it isn’t,” he laughed. He says he filled out a form on the bank’s website over the weekend, but has yet to receive a response.
But he says he needs the money soon to keep his business alive.
“I paid my guys two weeks,” he said. “Well, that was two weeks ago. As of today, this week, they haven’t been paid.”
If the process does not move quickly, he said his business would be in serious trouble.
Business problems with banks
Hunnicutt is one of dozens of small business owners who have contacted NPR, describing the barriers to applying for loans. The $ 350 billion SBA initiative, called Paycheque Protection Program, is designed to keep small business workers on the payroll during the crisis.
The Trump administration had said it hoped the program could provide immediate financial assistance to some companies. And administration officials bragged that hundreds of millions of dollars were disbursed by banks on day one.
Some small business owners, like Hunnicutt, are waiting for news from their banks. Others said they had not been able to reach their banks, due to downtime websites.
Several business owners cited Bank of America’s restrictions as a major obstacle. At Friday, Bank of America said a deposit account with the bank was not enough to qualify for loans. Applicants would need loan or credit card accounts with the bank. This left out the many businesses with no lending relationships with the bank and sparked a backlash online. Bank of America loose his needs over the weekend.
The SBA program reflects the difficulties of quickly building a massive new emergency lending effort and channeling it through a myriad of banking institutions.
And it comes at a time when businesses are in desperate need of cash. A recent poll of the United States Chamber of Commerce found that one in four businesses say they are two months or less away from being permanently closed, and one in ten say it is in a month or less.
Problems bigger than the banks
The difficulties small businesses have with the new program, however, go beyond their banks. New rules written after the program was created by Congress are stumbling some businesses, according to Stephanie O’Rourk, partner at accounting firm CohnReznick.
“The problem with the program is that it does not match the reality of the situation many companies are currently experiencing,” she said.
For example, she says, the new rules now state that loans must be repaid in two years instead of the 10 that the CARES law said. In addition, the Treasury added a rule that three quarters of the money must be used on the payroll for it to be forgiven.
For some businesses, non-salary expenses are just too high to spend so much on employees.
Chelsea Altman, co-owner of five restaurants in New York City, says the rule will be bad for her and other businesses in high-cost cities.
“In New York State or New York, your rent is very high,” she said. “So there’s a chance that even with that 75% going to work and the remaining 25% supposed to go to your rent, there are times when that won’t cover the rent.
Some unhappy banks
Many banks only opened the program to their own customers. As NPR reported, which has worried some small business advocates as it threatens to sideline small businesses, especially those owned by minorities.
Banks, meanwhile, had their reasons for wanting to limit their demands, according to Aaron Klein, policy director at the Brookings Institution’s Center on Regulation and Markets.
“The Treasury Department made a major unforced error, leaving the anti-money laundering rules on autopilot,” he said.
To lend money, banks must follow a procedure called Know Your Customer to prevent money laundering. This can be a tedious process, Klein explained, and poses a serious obstacle to an effort to squeeze out tens of billions of dollars in a matter of days.
Other banks expressed their own issues, including forms that changed overnight, unclear orientation government and difficulties with the Small Business Administration website.
For now, at least one concern about the program is being resolved: that the initial $ 349 billion allocated to it is too small to meet business demand. On Tuesday, the Treasury said it was preparing to ask Congress to spend an additional $ 200 billion on the program. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday he plans to work with Democrats and the Treasury to put more money in the program.