Governor Tom Wolf, state economic agencies, and the Small Business Administration said Wednesday that they will open the spigot of loans for small-business owners in the face of coronavirus-mandated shutdowns.
Tired Hands Brewery owner Julie Foster in Ardmore said that small businesses "are really frustrated.” Foster owns two microbrewery restaurants in Montgomery County, and both are required to close under the governor’s orders.
“I can’t download the application. In order to submit an application, you have to first identify as a 'disaster’ area,” Foster said. “The website is so overloaded it’s not loading at all.”
There’s a reason: three things need to happen first, according to Ruth Miller with PEMA.
“The Department of Community and Economic Development must get data from businesses showing they’ve been hurt economically” by the coronavirus, she said.
The DECD then turn over that data to the Small Business Administration via the governor’s office. Third, “the Governor requests the approval for SBA disaster loan,” Miller said.
The Department of Community & Economic Development issued a statement on Monday: “The Economic Injury Disaster Loan program will make funds available to impacted businesses. As part of the process to access those funds, the Governor, DCED and PEMA are currently working with local partners and the Small Business Administration to identify businesses economically affected by COVID-19."
"It is important to gather information from local businesses and stakeholders to ensure that no businesses are left out in being eligible to obtain a piece of the $50 billion that the federal government has made available through the program.”
Pennsylvania will be submitting a request to the federal government “as soon as we have collected the material needed to satisfy the requirements they have set forth," said the statement.
Impacted businesses that can help collect the proper information should contact their local economic development organization to fill out a worksheet.
The DCED offers working capital loans to businesses impacted by COVID-19; business are urged to visit the agency’s website and make requests for funds as they become available.
“We anticipate this funding will be available to businesses in the coming days,” the statement added.
The SBA’s website was crashing Monday due to a surge in users, as business owners apply for a loan to cover cash flow needs.
SBA spokeswoman Carol Wilkerson in Washington D.C. said the agency restored functionality on the website. “The website is currently up and running. SBA proactively took the disaster loan portion of the site offline temporarily in order to make updates that would enable SBA to better handle the increased website traffic that we expect once we announce new declarations for several states today.”
Governor Wolf on Wednesday requested an SBA disaster declaration to provide assistance in the form of SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans for businesses and eligible non-profits in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania.
Once the SBA receives an Economic Injury Disaster Loan application from a small business, it typically can take up to two to three weeks to make a credit decision, she said. If the loan request is approved, the SBA can make a disbursement within five days of receiving the signed loan closing documents.
“The wheels are starting to turn,” said Jason Johnson, owner and operator of Gullifty’s bar and restaurant in Bryn Mawr. “We’re trying to keep our employees on the payroll that ended Sunday, even though we’ve been asked to close. We haven’t laid off anyone yet or asked them to apply for unemployment."
Johnson is not paying himself.
Because Gullifty’s is located in Lower Merion Township, “we decided to follow the governor’s order” to close. “We want to help stop the spread. We wanted to do our part," Johnson said.
But over the weekend, loan officers from the SBA told Johnson that the paperwork hadn’t been finalized by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
“We’re filling out every application we can,” he said. “I’ve applied to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development" also, he said, which was requesting paperwork.
The mass closures affected distilleries as well as liquor stores, such as Art In the Age on North 3rd Street.
“I think this is going to change life in America forever. All those bars and restaurants, how are they going to survive?" said Art in the Age owner Steve Grasse. He runs the distillery at 113 N. Third St. in Old City.
“Politicians aren’t on the front lines of having to make payroll. They don’t see the reality of making payroll. No one’s looking at it through that lens,” he said.
SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance. These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.
The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75%.
SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years. Terms are determined on a case-by-case basis, based upon each borrower’s ability to repay.
Grasse said his accountant thought he was crazy because his company began preparing for the pandemic in January. His wife saw horrifying videos out of Wuhan, China, and noticed those started disappearing and “we decided to get ready.”