The economy has been flattened by coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19), and businesses are seeking a way to continue operating or to reopen their doors.
A $2 trillion stimulus package— the largest in the nation’s history — is called the CARES Act, which stands for Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security.
Part of that package is specifically aimed at assisting companies with fewer than 500 employees, said Bill Cronin, CEO and president of Pasco Economic Development Council Inc.
“It’s intended to assist small business owners in whatever needs that they have right now. So, once it’s implemented, there’s going to be lots of resources for small business, as well as some nonprofits and also some other types of employers,” said Cronin, who helps recruit and build business growth through the nonprofit economic development agency he leads.
Cronin and Eileen Rodriguez, regional director for the Florida SBDC at the University of South Florida, participated in a Zoom video conferencing session on April 1, with Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore.
“This particular pandemic, has really, I think, taken a lot of people by surprise,” Rodriguez said. “The scope and magnitude of it is so much more than just our normal disasters, which you know, we’re used to the hurricanes. This is a completely different animal. It’s just so huge.”
While various assistance programs are available, getting through the process can be difficult, Cronin said.
“It is confusing, even for us as practitioners, between state, federal and local programs. So, I can’t imagine what it’s like sometimes, as business people, trying to navigate all of these different resources — in a time when it’s challenging enough as it is, with all of these external pressures,” Cronin said.
He outlined some of the programs available to help businesses.
“The most popular program that I think most of you are going to be interested in is called the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. It is designed for companies that employ fewer than 500 workers,” he said.
In essence, the loan is designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.
SBA will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities.
Rodriguez talked about the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program .
“We help small business owners who are currently navigating the loan process.
“We don’t actually make decisions on which loans get approved or denied, but we do work with the independent Emergency Bridge Loan committee that makes those decisions,” she said.
“The team at the SBDC — the entire team — is really working as fast as we can to process all these inquiries and applications that have come in.
“Right now, we’re probably hovering around 4,000, just to give you a sense of the type of volume that we’re looking at,” she said.
“Everybody is trying to move as quickly as possible, to help all of the small businesses that have been affected, which frankly, has been pretty much everybody in the state of Florida, and of course, across the nation.”
Information is changing constantly, Rodriguez added. “Changes occur daily, and I might even say, hourly.”
“What I’m saying right this minute could possibly change in an hour, two hours, this afternoon, tomorrow,” she said.
It’s essential to check officials websites for up-to-the-minute information, she said.
The Florida Emergency Bridge Loan Program was activated on March 16 by the governor’s office.
“They released $50 million for that program. Small businesses can qualify for up to $50,000 in most cases. These are interest-free, short-term loans. And, by short-term, I mean 12 months,” she said.
“Let’s say you would be awarded a loan today. You would have 12 months to pay it off. It’s interest-free for those 12 months. At 12 months and 1 day, if that loan is not paid off, you will have to start paying interest and that interest will be retroactive, back to Day 1.
“This loan does not convert to a long-term loan at that point. It’s still a short-term loan and for all intents and purposes, you will be in default of your loan on that 366th day,” she said.
To apply for this loan, go to FloridaJobs.org, which is the Department of Economic Opportunity’s website. Applications are now being accepted directly through their portal, which was activated on March 23.
Business owners can qualify for both the short-term and long-term loans, she said.
The Small Business Administration also offers an economic injury disaster loan. It allows loans of up to $2 million, and self-employed workers are eligible.
The interest rate is 3.75% for for-profit companies; 2.75% for nonprofit companies.
“This is pretty much considered a working capital loan, again, to help with payroll, with fixed debt, accounts payable, any other bills,” Rodriguez said.
“You don’t have to go through a bank to apply for it. This loan is directly with the Small Business Administration’s disaster assistance program,” she said.
Rodriguez said she has no idea how long it will take for loans to be processed.
“I will tell you that they are overwhelmed, because, again, this is not just a Florida program. That’s a national program, a federal program. They’ve had over 1 million — 1 million — inquiries and applications already.
Pasco Chairman Moore offered some words of support to the small business community.
“You will continue to be the heartbeat in Pasco County,” Moore said.
“We want to see you all get out of this, we want to see you succeed. We want to see everybody working.
“We’re going to get through this,” Moore said. “We’re going to get through this together.”
Published April 08, 2020