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What can US small businesses do during the pandemic – and why is it so confusing?

By April 13, 2020No Comments

(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

One of the worst parts of this whole pandemic thing is not the lack of information from our government. It’s too much conflicting information. Do we wear masks or not? Does that malaria drug work on Covid-19 patients? Unfortunately, the same holds true for the government’s small business relief efforts.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been telling thousands of business owners that they can get relief from the federal government. I’ve been telling them to go for a $2m low-cost, longterm economic injury disaster loan from the small business administration and even get a $10,000 grant just for applying. I’ve been saying that they can also apply for paycheck protection money where banks will lend up to $10m and then the small business owner can apply for forgiveness based on the amounts spent on payroll and other operating costs over a two-month period.

Go, I say, go! Go to the government and they will help you survive this pandemic. Get your money! But no, that’s not happening.

Now we learn those $2m economic injury development loans are being capped at $15,000. Is that true? And those $10,000 grants are just $1,000 per employee? Really? Can we or can’t we get forgiven for the costs of independent contractors? What exactly is the documentation we need and why are some banks requesting more? Why didn’t you tell me that some banks wouldn’t lend this money to non-customers or would cap their loans? Most importantly, how come we’re waiting so long for our money?

That’s only a smattering of the questions I’m getting from confused and desperate small business owners on Twitter.

If you’re one of them – like me – there’s little we all can do about this other than soldier on. You should still apply for the relief programs but you should do so with the expectation that you’re going to have to wait for your money, and the money may be less than what was initially promised. In other words: wear that face mask because it probably does something to protect you. But it may not. But wear it.

The federal government will tell you that that tens of billions of dollars of loans have been processed already and that many companies are starting to see funding. This is true, and somewhat encouraging. They will also tell you that many of the questions that banks had have been resolved. They will say that they have fixed the technical issues on their lending platforms and are signing up new lenders to accept applications. Also good. They’re also clarifying some rules, issuing more guidelines and hiring more people to answer questions. They’re also working on getting another $250bn approved by Congress to fund small businesses. I like that too.

But do I believe all that they are saying? If you’re running a small business, do you? I guess the answer is whether or not you believe that wearing a face mask will help stop the spread of coronavirus. That’s what the government says, so it must be true, right? Until next week, when someone high up in Washington says something else.


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