Small business lending program on hold after reaching limit
Posted April 16, 2020 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated April 16, 2020 9:02 p.m. EDT
NEW YORK — The government’s lending program for small businesses is tapped out, and business owners who still need loans are waiting on Congress to approve more funding.
The U.S. Small Business Administration said Thursday that it reached the $349 billion lending limit for the Paycheck Protection Program, after approving nearly 1.7 million loans.
Thousands of small-business owners whose loans have not yet been processed must now look to Congress to approve a Trump administration request for another $250 billion for the program.
Lawmakers have been haggling over whether to extend the program as it stands now or add provisions that, among other things, would help minority businesses. It’s unclear when they might reach an agreement that would allow loan approvals to continue.
Business owners left in limbo were getting more anxious after hearing the program was on hold.
“Ugh. I'm starting to stress a bit,” said Greg Corey, who applied when the program launched April 3. He last heard from his bank on Saturday. Corey, owner of Porchlight, an Atlanta-based advertising and marketing firm, has been cutting expenses and work for freelancers so he can keep paying his staff of 10.
"I have heard that they received my application, and that’s it," said Kelli Cotter, co-Owner of Durham sandwich shop Toast.
Cotter said she applied for a loan through Truist "within minutes" of the bank's portal opening.
"That’s kind of devastating," she said of the fund being emptied, "because we were all sort of banking on that to happen to keep us going. We can continue like this for a while but not long term, not long term."
"We’re still hopeful that our bank may have some funds set aside for us – this lender that we’re working with – but if that does not work and we haven’t been approved, it’s a serious setback for us," said Elizabeth Turnbull, co-owner od Durham restaurant Copa.
Copa has laid off about 30 percent of its staff and has cut other employees' hours, Turnbull said.
"We have had to completely reinvent our business model on the fly," she said. "Basically, every day is a new challenge, and we’re trying to find a way to make that work."
Meanwhile, thousands of other businesses are still applying, hoping to get loans when the program is extended.
While they wait, some banks continue to accept and process applications that will be forwarded to the SBA. Others were putting their application processes on hold. Truist Bank’s website told visitors, ’’we’re suspending the application process to focus our efforts on funding the first wave of SBA-approved applications.”
The fight in Congress over the extension is along party lines. Republicans are amping up the political pressure in hopes of getting a relatively narrowly drawn infusion of $250 billion in funding into the program, but top Democrats are seeking to add funding for hospitals and state and local governments.
Action on Capitol Hill is complicated by the shuttering of the Capitol other than for pro forma sessions that require unanimous agreement in order for any legislation to advance. The sums are unlike anything that has passed under conditions requiring such unanimous consent – a wholly unprecedented situation that has scrambled the power dynamics inside the Capitol.
Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California are also seeking to add provisions that, among other things, would help minority businesses.
With the stalemate, the business payroll subsidy program likely won’t get funding until next week at the earliest.
"We knew that this funding was going to run out. Congress knew that the money was going to run out, and they gave us assurances that they would approve more funding. And so, we just want it to come faster – sooner than later," said Peter Gwaltney, president and chief executive of North Carolina Bankers Association.
Although the halt to the program is expected to be temporary, it is another frustration for owners whose loan money has been delayed by a series of obstacles.
The number of approved loans is more than 30 times what the SBA processes in a year. The crush of applications caused technological problems at the SBA and a backlog at banks. However, many owners also faced bank requirements that excluded even long-time customers and many of those who could apply received little or no information about the status of their applications.
“I am annoyed at how poorly executed this process has been,” said Ashley Hunter, managing director of HM Risk Group, an insurance underwriter based in Austin, Texas. She said her bank has not contacted her about her application.
Gwaltney said approximately 25,000 Paycheck Protection Program loans have been approved in North Carolina alone, but that is less than 3 percent of the small businesses statewide.
"Inundated is a good word," he said. "The demand has been overwhelming. We’ve never seen anything like this. Many banks are approving, processing as many small-business loans in a day that they might do in a normal year. It’s that big, in terms of scale."
A further frustration is the fact that some banks still weren’t set up to take any applications even though the program started nearly two weeks ago. Comerica Bank said it would email customers when its website was ready to accept applications.
Many owners are juggling applications while trying to keep their businesses afloat in the midst of a crisis.
“I’m trying to do everything I can and am filling out paperwork. I’m looking to my accountant to help because I’m actually stuck here quite a bit, working,” said Steve Babiak, owner of Benny’s Bakery in Saline, Mich.
"I didn’t expect it to run out so fast. I didn’t expect them to give so much to larger companies," Cotter said, noting that Toast has had to lay off workers as its business has fallen by about 70 percent.
"It’s absolutely crucial for small businesses that we have more funding for the PPP program," Turnbull said. "Independent businesses are the heart and soul of downtown Durham’s renaissance. ... Without that, we end up with a ghost town in downtown Durham, and that has repercussions that’ll ripple throughout our entire local economy."
The loans, based on a company’s payroll costs, offer owners forgiveness if they retain workers or rehire those who have been laid off. The law provides for forgiveness for companies in any industry – even businesses like hedge funds and law firms. However, there’s a limit of $100,000 on the amount of employees’ compensation that can be considered when loan forgiveness is calculated.
While they wait, owners who are shut down or who’ve lost revenue are uneasy about the impact the virus outbreak will have on their companies.
“Without knowing how long this downturn will last, the loan would have helped us ease the burden for the long term,” said Jordan Gurrieri, co-founder of Blue Label Labs, an app developer based in New York. His company applied to a large bank on April 6; he plans to apply to a smaller one when the program reopens.