Some small-business owners got $0, while lenders got billions in fees

Small-business owners across America are outraged after the coronavirus relief program intended to extend them a financial lifeline exhausted its $350 billion fund less than two weeks after it started — while lenders took home almost $6 billion in fees.

“We survived the 9/11 economic hardships and the 2008 economic downturn that seemed to go on forever, but I don’t know if we will survive the COVID-19 economic disaster,” said Candace Senato, who has owned a Tempe, Arizona-based freight shipping company for 28 years.

“I believe that, tragically, the number of small businesses who have to shut their doors will far exceed the anticipated number,” Senato said. “I would like to know who received the funds, and from which banks. So far, none of the small businesses we know like ours received funding from our bank.”

The Small Business Administration opened two programs: The $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program offered businesses with fewer than 500 employees a loan that can turn into a free grant if used to cover payroll and other allowed expenses and employees aren’t laid off. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan provided up to $2 million in financial assistance for any business that has losses as a result of the pandemic.

However, now that the money has already dried up for both first-come, first-served programs, business owners’ frustrations have only grown.

“This is crazy,” said Doug Yurubi, co-owner of the Benn Conger Inn in New York’s Finger Lakes region. He applied for the SBA programs as soon as they were available, but after having trouble applying online he was forced to print his documents and mail them in. There were issues with that, so he was asked to go online and apply again. But by that point the funding was all gone.

“It is frustrating due to the small window of opportunity to maintain business,” wrote Yurubi. “This is not right.”

While some customers, especially those with community banks, have reported success getting through the program, many small-business owners find themselves waiting for a lifeline they’re not sure will appear.

On Friday, the SBA disclosed the first final accounting of the exhaustion of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act funding for the initial phase of the PPP program. In sum, 1,661,367 loans were approved for $342,277,999,103 from 4,975 lenders through noon Friday, the SBA said in a release.

The total amount approved was lower than the $349 billion allocated because approximately $6 billion went to lender fees, as prescribed by the legislation.

The top five industries receiving the loans, in descending order, were construction, services, manufacturing, health, and accommodation and food services. These loans compromised nearly 60 percent of the total amount.

By state, California received the most PPP loans, at $33 billion, followed by Texas ($28 billion); New York ($20 billion); Florida (almost $18 billion); and Illinois (nearly $16 billion). Three-quarters of the loans were for $150,000 and under. Four percent of the loans were for over $1 million, consisting of nearly 45 percent of the total money disbursed.

However, despite the amounts of funding that have been committed, the nation’s biggest retail banks were largely unable or unwilling to share figures on how many funds had actually been actually deposited into customers’ bank accounts.

Chase this week disclosed it had executed around $14 billion into accounts. Citigroup said it received applications for $3 billion. Bank of America said it had received over 330,000 applications and CEO Brian Moynihan said “thousands” had been approved by the SBA. Wells Fargo said it received over 370,000 “expressions of interest” and “some” of those customers have moved onto a formal application, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reported.

“We will continue to prepare applications in our existing pipeline from small and mid-size businesses and will submit them to the SBA when funds become available,” Wells Fargo spokeswoman Vickee Adams told NBC News. “We stand ready to help the hundreds of thousands of customers waiting for this much-needed assistance.”

Despite the challenges and uncertainties, experts say that small-business owners shouldn’t give up.

While Republicans and Democrats both want to replenish the funds, they’re unlikely to resolve their differences over how to do so, and whether to create set-asides for vulnerable groups and add funding for hospitals and state governments, before Congress resumes in May.

In the meantime small-business owners can still apply at the many banks that are still accepting and processing applications in the expectation of added funding. If they’ve already applied they should keep working with their banker to make sure all their paperwork is ready, said James Brower, a partner at Marks Paneth, an accounting and advisory firm.

“Gather data and submit an application to at least get in line,” said Brower.

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