Ten days after the launch of the Trump administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to provide relief to small businesses slammed by coronavirus, 74% of the allotted funds have been earmarked.
As of Tuesday at 1pm EST, the Small Business Administration (SBA) says 1.1 million loan applications have been approved, totaling $257 billion (of the dedicated $349 billion) from 4,700 lending institutions. (The program will run out of money by Thursday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow says; Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted last week that the PPP needs to add another $250 billion.)
That last figure from the SBA is key: 4,700 different lenders are participating. So while the biggest banks (Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo) are getting the most attention and scrutiny for their tech and organizational failures in the process so far, many businesses have successfully applied for PPP loans through small community banks, and have received the funds.
These businesses are, so far, the exception to the more widely-reported problems with the process.
Indeed, on Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement that declared, “Further changes must also be made to the SBA’s assistance initiative, as many eligible small businesses continue to be excluded from the Paycheck Protection Program by big banks with significant lending capacity.”
According to CovidLoanTracker.com, 4% of U.S. small businesses have received a PPP loan, and as you scroll the list, the vast majority got theirs from a small regional bank. Citi CIO David Bailin, when asked about Citi’s PPP numbers on Tuesday, told Yahoo Finance: “I would ask the question a week from today: How many loans have been processed, how many loans have been funded, how many have come from large banks. I think what you'll find overwhelmingly is that, a week from now, the large banks will have done their job, because of their large footprints.”
Yahoo Finance spoke to four businesses that went through smaller banks and have already received PPP funds; they all credit that choice with helping them cut through the pitfalls of the process to get their funds faster.
Here are their stories.
A fitness equipment seller in Texas: $412,000
Comm-Fit, based out of Dallas, sells, delivers and installs fitness equipment to corporate clients like apartment complexes, condo complexes, office buildings, and colleges and universities.
Seth Gordon, the CEO, only just acquired the business in September 2019, and it was growing rapidly, serving clients in 22 states—then coronavirus hit. Sales were only down 20% in March since Comm-Fit had existing contracts in place, but for April, Gordon expects sales to be down more than 75%. “Obviously, the commercial customer is shut down right now,” Gordon says, “and they’re not looking to buy fitness equipment when people aren’t there.”
Comm-Fit has 28 full-time employees and has not laid anyone off yet. Gordon is optimistic that once America gets through the worst of coronavirus, his business will pick up again swiftly: “We had seen some projects pushed [rather than canceled], and we see some pent-up demand as well.”
Comm-Fit had five independent subcontractors (1099 workers) who Gordon could not include in his payroll tally on the PPP application (that distinction was a big point of confusion for many applicants), but Gordon says the bigger issue he saw in the process was the “moving target” of whether the loans would cover business needs like rent and utilities. “Then it got pared down to payroll,” he says. “It was constantly changing and evolving, we probably completed eight different applications that required some sort of amendment.”
Comm-Fit used Live Oak, a North Carolina bank that mostly provides loans to small businesses, so it already works closely with the SBA. (Live Oak is nearly a small business itself, based on the PPP guidelines, with just 600 employees.) “As the rules of engagement changed, Live Oak was extremely helpful,” Gordon said. “We were really lucky to work with a great bank. I do have friends that are lost right now trying to figure out how to get money.”
Gordon completed the PPP application on April 4, and received the funds ($412,000) on April 10.
“It’s rare that you get to take advantage of government subsidies, so we feel very fortunate,” Gordon says. “You hate that it’s under these circumstances, but this is extremely helpful and relieves the short-term pressure. Now, if this becomes a six-month or 12-month or 18-month issue, this money will only last so long.”
A snack food supplier in New Jersey: $83,700
East Coast snack lovers might know Chank’s Grab-n-Go Pizza Cones. The company, which started in 2018, manufactures the distinctive snack in southern New Jersey and sells it mostly to sports stadium catering companies like Aramark and Sodexo. Since coronavirus shut down live sports, Chank’s has seen sales fall more than 60%.
CEO Eric Ciancaglini (pronounced “chank-a-gleeny,” hence the business name) says Chank’s had 10 full-time employees prior to coronavirus, and had to lay off almost all of them. But the PPP loan money will allow Ciancaglini to bring almost all of those workers off unemployment and back on the payroll.
Ciancaglini applied through OceanFirst, a regional bank based in New Jersey, through which he had an existing lending relationship. When he first applied he included his 1099 contractors, then learned those people have to apply separately. (“There was definitely a little bit of confusion on that point,” he says.) On April 8 he completed the application, he got a call from his rep at OceanFirst on April 9 saying that everything looked right, and the $83,700 hit his account on April 10.
Amid coronavirus, Chank’s is trying to pivot its business model. “We’re looking at selling to grocery stores for the freezer section,” Ciancaglini says. “We’re also getting involved with the new ghost kitchen concept, where we can get product to businesses that way.”
A dental office in Iowa: $114,000
Dr. Joe Toale co-owns Pas & Toale Dentistry in Milford, Iowa, with his business partner and nine other full-time employes. On March 17, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a state of emergency that forced Toale to shut down the office to all patients except for “emergent care” like a tooth infection—no cleanings. The mandate currently runs through at least April 30.
Business ground to a halt. “We’re now open for two half-days per week, just to treat emergent needs so that someone doesn’t go to the emergency room and cause more stress on the hospitals,” Toale says. (The office is averaging five to seven of those types of patients per week.) Pas & Toale furloughed seven of its 11 employees.
For the PPP application process, Toale went through his local branch of Northwest Bank, which serves Iowa and Nebraska. The bank even held a Zoom call to explain the process to customers. “I’ve been banking there since I was in high school, so I have a personal relationship with the banker,” Toale says. “We have a relationship with another bank, but they weren’t as proactive with giving out information.”
Toale completed his application on April 4 and received the requested amount in full ($114,000) on April 13. The one wrinkle for Toale was the eight-week rule: PPP loans must be put to use within eight weeks of receiving them, and at least 75% of the loan must go to payroll. Toale initially hoped to delay the funds since the office isn’t going to be open for at least the next two weeks, but now that he’s received the money, the clock begins.
His plan is to hire back everyone that was furloughed as soon as the state allows businesses to reopen. Thus he won’t use the PPP money until he can put everyone back on the payroll—with the hopes that day comes sooner than eight weeks.
An on-demand printing service in New York City: $201,000
ABG Print was founded in 1992, and you could say it’s an example of an old-world business that still thrives today even though so many functions have gone digital. ABG prints business documents like annual reports and brochures, and delivers or mails them to companies.
“The second coronavirus hit, we saw the impact,” says Jesse Safir, who acquired the company just one year ago. “The top investment banks that call us up at 3 am to have something ready by 8 am, they’re not calling if there’s no business meetings in New York.” Safir says ABG’s sales will likely be down 90% in April.
Before coronavirus, ABG had 16 employees. Safir quickly had to cut to five—that was before PPP launched. “I told people, ‘I’m cutting your job now so that I have a career for you when this time is over. I have to save the company because otherwise there’s no job to give you down the road.’”
Safir has a business account with Chase, but for the PPP process, he went with Live Oak. “There was no way I was going through Chase because I didn’t want to be just one little nit in a cast of tens of thousands,” Safir says. “The big banks, all their call centers are down, they can’t process the volume right now. Live Oak knows me, knows my loan, there’s less ambiguity. And I’m already a borrower, and that’s so important, because think about the incentive that puts on them.”
Safir says he filled out the PPP application multiple times preemptively so that he was ready to go on day one. He applied on April 3 and got the funds in his account ($201,000) on April 8.
The program’s eight-week rule is problematic for Safir: it creates a need to bring new part-time people on right away. He doesn’t plan to hire back all 11 of the full-time workers he cut, because he expects he’d have to cut them again after the eight-week period.
“I don’t have the need or desire to bring my staff in because New York is shut down, so in many ways now I have to pivot quickly in terms of finding new roles I can use as W2 workers,” he explains. “I’m grateful for the money, but there will be others who didn’t get out the gate as fast, and they’ll get the money later and get to use it later. The CARES Act could have said, ‘You have to use the money by the end of September.’ Then I would have approached it very differently.”
On the bright side, Safir says that eight weeks from now, “I expect there to be more guidance on the details.”
Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.
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