For Small-Business Owners, a Shifting Landscape of Resources

Small businesses across the country have been pounded by the pandemic. Entrepreneurs have been forced to make drastic cuts and pivot to new business models to keep going. Financial aid, though, is what has kept the lights on.

But today, many sources, including private foundations and the federal government, that once offered loans and grants have either closed their financial aid programs or put them on hold.

The biggest player, the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (P.P.P.), shut down in August, and Congress hasn’t agreed to more aid. If there is no agreement, it will fall to the new administration to negotiate an aid package in late January.

This has put small-business owners in a tough spot. After her business storefront was closed for three months, a PPP loan helped Destiny Burns, 56, the founder of the four-year-old CLE Urban Winery in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, stay afloat.

In June, Ms. Burns received a small P.P.P. loan and money from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. “I stabilized operations in my business, and the proceeds of the E.I.D.L. loan give me a cash cushion that was immeasurably helpful and enabled me to sleep at night,” she said.

She used the funds to invest in an upgraded website with enhanced e-commerce capabilities and installed UV light filtration systems in the air handlers at the winery.

She recently applied for a Small Business Relief Grant, designed to provide relief to Ohio businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic.

In late October, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio designated up to $125 million of funding received by the state from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide $10,000 grants to for-profit businesses with 25 employees or less. There is also a $2,500 grant being offered for bars and restaurants (active liquor license holders only).

Ms. Burns is also applying for P.P.P. loan forgiveness. “My loan was well below $50,000, so I can use that ‘simplified’ form that was recently released,” she said. “It is still a complicated and daunting process.”

For now, she’s open for business with reduced hours and capacity. “But I’m hanging in there,” Ms. Burns said. “I’m still in a revenue hole, though, for 2020 as compared to last year — about a 30 percent year-over-year drop.

“Coronavirus cases are surging in Ohio right now, so I am unsure how it will play out — we’ll see,” she added.

Here’s a rundown of what resources are available to small-business owners like Ms. Burns. Keep in mind that the rules continue to shift.

The P.P.P. program is closed. For small-business operators who did receive one, the loans are forgivable; in essence, they are turned into grants, if the funds were used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities (a portion of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll).

Originally, the loans had to be used within eight weeks of receiving the money. That allotted time was pushed to 24 weeks through the P.P.P. Flexibility Act, which also extended the deferment date of the first payment on the loan to 10 months after the end of the covered period, and the loan forgiveness application was simplified.

The S.B.A. does have other helpful offerings. Its Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program provides up to six months of working capital, with a fixed interest rate of 3.75 percent. Payment can be deferred for a year, but interest will accrue. Loans have repayments of up to 30 years.

The agency is also providing small businesses that have a relationship with an S.B.A. Express Lender to access a bridge loan of up to $25,000.

Apply online at the S.B.A.’s website or at 800-659-2955. The site also has a directory to find its local offices.

SCORE, a nonprofit affiliated with the S.B.A., provides a Small Business Resilience Hub that lists financial tools and resources, as well as access to mentoring and educational workshops nationwide. Its website offers federal resources, including tax filing assistance for small businesses affected by the pandemic.

State and city governments are also offering grants and providing assistance centers. A good place to start is the U.S. Chamber’s Save Small Business Initiative’s state-by-state guide, which outlines the loans, grants and funds that state and local governments — as well as private organizations — are offering.

To learn more about resources, check with the offices of mayors and governors, and state economic development agency websites, which outline relief program updates.

In Virginia, for example, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors is providing small-business grants of up to $15,000. They can assist with rent or mortgage payments, reopening expenses, utilities, payroll, and other similar costs from the ordinary course of business. The deadline for applications is Dec. 1.

The Rebuild VA Grant Fund is a program to help small businesses and nonprofits whose operations were disrupted by Covid-19. The statewide Rebuild VA program is open to any small business or nonprofit with $10 million or less in gross revenue, or 250 or fewer employees. The maximum award is $100,000.

Cities are offering small-business assistance programs of their own. The New York City Department of Small Business Services, for example, can help businesses apply for loans and other financial products. There are free small-group and one-on-one consultations to help businesses evaluate and apply for financing and access to city-sponsored special loans and grants.

The Neighborhood Challenge is an effort created by the NYC Economic Development Corporation and NYC Department of Small Business Services in collaboration with The Urban Tech Hub @ Company, and CIV:LAB to crowdsource solutions to support the city’s commercial districts and small storefront businesses. Project entries are being accepted through December.

The NYC Small Business Resource Network, a public-private partnership funded by a $2.8 million grant from the New York-based Peter G. Peterson Foundation and supported by in-kind contributions from other partners, is working with local entrepreneurs “to gain access to a range of programs and services,” according to the website.

In San Francisco, businesses in certain neighborhoods can get up to $5,000 reimbursed for past, in progress, or future work through the SF Shines for Reopening grant.

GoFundMe, the fund-raising platform, has started the Small Business Relief Initiative, partnering with Yelp, Intuit QuickBooks, Bill.com and GoDaddy to provide owners with grants and resources. GoFundMe, QuickBooks and Yelp have each donated $500,000 to the Small Business Relief Fund, and it is open for anyone to donate. There will also be matching grants of $500 to qualifying businesses that raise at least $500 on GoFundMe.

IFundWomen, a crowdfunding platform, is giving microgrants to women-run businesses, issued on a rolling basis. Register with the site and click “start a campaign” to be considered for a relief grant.

The Verizon Business Comeback Coach program, which is scheduled to go live on Monday offers free business services, including one-on-one coaching, videoconferencing via BlueJeans for one month and two free months of One Talk, which connects office phones to mobile devices. Yahoo Small Business Business Maker has a free website builder, as well as free domains and business email addresses.

Despite these options, owners face daunting challenges, and many are just staying in business. A lot rides on the future of P.P.P. loans.

“We have made it through so far,” said Carl Sobocinski, 52, the founder of Table 301 Restaurant Group, which operates six restaurants in Greenville, S. C.

Last spring, Mr. Sobocinski furloughed 80 percent of his 400 employees. Management took a 20 percent pay cut, and menus were pruned. He was also able to work with lenders to defer some of the company’s mortgage payments for three months.

The business is now breaking even, at roughly 65 percent of last year’s revenues of $22 million, and the employee roster is now 300.

“We applied early for P.P.P. funds — a total of around $1 million, and that made all the difference in bringing our work force back,” Mr. Sobocinski said. “As long as we don’t have another complete shut down, I feel we will make it.”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*