Small businesses in America can still capitalize on the pandemic stimulus program offered by the federal government, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman told Yahoo Finance in a new interview.
“We still have billions of dollars in relief in our COVID idle program,” said Guzman, who began her term under President Joe Biden in March after serving as the Director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate.
The SBA initiatives — including the $953-billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG), and Economic Injury Disaster loans — were created to provide crucial funding after the nationwide shutdowns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, which led to approximately 200,000 businesses permanently shuttering in 2020.
That residual funding may be crucial as the Delta variant surge in various parts of the country dashes hopes that workers will be back in large numbers, causing small businesses owners to scramble once again. (A recent survey by Alignable, a social network for small-business owners, found that 76% of owners are concerned that the uptick in cases will impede their efforts to rebound.)
“We stand ready to support our small businesses with whatever programs we have," she said, adding that the programs are also opportunities for businesses to position themselves to take advantage of growth opportunities during the economic recovery.
'We want to see those loans move to forgiveness'
PPP loans, the SBA's best-known pandemic relief effort, were made with the promise that they would be forgiven and essentially turned into grants if used properly.
However, while the program has helped millions of businesses keep employees on payroll, the process been plagued with problems from the start given the necessarily swift rollout.
The funding in the first round, which was quickly exhausted, mostly went to larger businesses with existing relationships with big banks while smaller, more vulnerable businesses were largely left out.
In response, the second round gave smaller businesses better access to funding — but the time to process those funds took longer as the SBA implemented new rules to combat the fraud.
The SBA also recently launched a direct forgiveness portal, which is aimed at small businesses with PPP loans of $150,000 and under. Guzman said they have partnered with over 1,000 lenders on this platform for businesses to be able to complete the process in 10 minutes.
Overall, as of August 15, $471,137,621,001 in PPP loans had been forgiven.
“We want to see all of the PPPs — $800 billion — get back into the marketplace," Guzman said. "We want to see those loans move to forgiveness if they're eligible, and those lenders have that capital to now re-lend in the small business community.”
'We want to continue to try to support these venues'
Restaurants, in particular, continue to face both labor and supply shortages.
Guzman noted that the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund provided $28.6 billion in funding to over 100,000 businesses before ending in July, and the demand was 2.5 times that amount.
“I know that Congress continues to consider whether or not they will replenish those funds," she noted.
The SVOG, the entertainment venue program signed into law in December 2020 as part of a $900 billion COVID relief legislation package, pledged $15 billion to independent venues, promoters, theaters, and other organizations.
And though the program initially saw major delays and a stutter-start, the SBA was able to turn it around.
“We've gotten out $9 billion and we're continuing to wind down all those applications that are under review," Guzman said. “Please bear with us. We want to see that those funds are continuing to be disbursed every day."
Guzman added the SBA will open a SVOG portal this week for previous awardees to apply for the supplemental program.
“We want to continue to try to support these venues," she explained. "If there was some sort of mistake in the process, obviously, that will come through during this appeals process.”
The supplemental grants will be offered at just 50% of the original award amount, according to SBA, capped at $10 million. That cap includes both the initial and supplemental grant awards.
The SBA is also accepting some applications for reconsideration of award amounts and appeals to give applicants a chance to prove their eligibility and reverse a prior decision. Declined applicants have two weeks to appeal.
Asked about reports of small businesses going through the reconsideration process and being denied again, Guzman had some advice.
"What I would encourage them to do is to reach out to their local district offices," she said. "They can find their local partners at SBA.gov and make sure that any specifics on the case can be understood, as well as they can be connected to additional relief that the SBA has to offer.”
The COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program also remains available, a program the agency has focused on to make sure they “improve customer service.”
Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @daniromerotv.