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For Small-Business Owners, a Shifting Landscape of Resources - The New York Times

For Small-Business Owners, a Shifting Landscape of Resources - The New York Times


For Small-Business Owners, a Shifting Landscape of Resources - The New York Times

Posted: 18 Nov 2020 09:38 AM PST

Small businesses across the United States have been pounded by the pandemic. Entrepreneurs have been forced to make drastic cuts and pivot to new business models to keep going. Financial aid, though, is what has kept the lights on.

But today, many sources, including private foundations and the federal government, that once offered loans and grants have either closed their financial aid programs or put them on hold.

The biggest player, the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program (P.P.P.), shut down in August, and Congress hasn't agreed to more aid. If there is no agreement, it will fall to the new administration to negotiate an aid package in late January.

This has put small-business owners in a tough spot. After her business storefront was closed for three months, a PPP loan helped Destiny Burns, 56, the founder of the four-year-old CLE Urban Winery in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, stay afloat.

In June, Ms. Burns received a small P.P.P. loan and money from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. "I stabilized operations in my business, and the proceeds of the E.I.D.L. loan give me a cash cushion that was immeasurably helpful and enabled me to sleep at night," she said.

She used the funds to invest in an upgraded website with enhanced e-commerce capabilities and installed UV light filtration systems in the air handlers at the winery.

She recently applied for a Small Business Relief Grant, designed to provide relief to Ohio businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic.

In late October, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio designated up to $125 million of funding received by the state from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide $10,000 grants to for-profit businesses with 25 employees or less. There is also a $2,500 grant being offered for bars and restaurants (active liquor license holders only).

Ms. Burns is also applying for P.P.P. loan forgiveness. "My loan was well below $50,000, so I can use that 'simplified' form that was recently released," she said. "It is still a complicated and daunting process."

For now, she's open for business with reduced hours and capacity. "But I'm hanging in there," Ms. Burns said. "I'm still in a revenue hole, though, for 2020 as compared to last year — about a 30 percent year-over-year drop.

"Coronavirus cases are surging in Ohio right now, so I am unsure how it will play out — we'll see," she added.

Here's a rundown of what resources are available to small-business owners like Ms. Burns. Keep in mind that the rules continue to shift.

The P.P.P. program is closed. For small-business operators who did receive one, the loans are forgivable; in essence, they are turned into grants, if the funds were used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities (a portion of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll).

Originally, the loans had to be used within eight weeks of receiving the money. That allotted time was pushed to 24 weeks through the P.P.P. Flexibility Act, which also extended the deferment date of the first payment on the loan to 10 months after the end of the covered period, and the loan forgiveness application was simplified.

The S.B.A. does have other helpful offerings. Its Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program provides up to six months of working capital, with a fixed interest rate of 3.75 percent. Payment can be deferred for a year, but interest will accrue. Loans have repayments of up to 30 years.

The agency is also providing small businesses that have a relationship with an S.B.A. Express Lender to access a bridge loan of up to $25,000.

Apply online at the S.B.A.'s website or at 800-659-2955. The site also has a directory to find its local offices.

SCORE, a nonprofit affiliated with the S.B.A., provides a Small Business Resilience Hub that lists financial tools and resources, as well as access to mentoring and educational workshops nationwide. Its website offers federal resources, including tax filing assistance for small businesses affected by the pandemic.

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Credit...Noah Berger/Associated Press

State and city governments are also offering grants and providing assistance centers. A good place to start is the U.S. Chamber's Save Small Business Initiative's state-by-state guide, which outlines the loans, grants and funds that state and local governments — as well as private organizations — are offering.

To learn more about resources, check with the offices of mayors and governors, and state economic development agency websites, which outline relief program updates.

In Virginia, for example, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors is providing small-business grants of up to $15,000. They can assist with rent or mortgage payments, reopening expenses, utilities, payroll, and other similar costs from the ordinary course of business. The deadline for applications is Dec. 1.

The Rebuild VA Grant Fund is a program to help small businesses and nonprofits whose operations were disrupted by Covid-19. The statewide Rebuild VA program is open to any small business or nonprofit with $10 million or less in gross revenue, or 250 or fewer employees. The maximum award is $100,000.

Cities are offering small-business assistance programs of their own. The New York City Department of Small Business Services, for example, can help businesses apply for loans and other financial products. There are free small-group and one-on-one consultations to help businesses evaluate and apply for financing and access to city-sponsored special loans and grants.

The Neighborhood Challenge is an effort created by the NYC Economic Development Corporation and NYC Department of Small Business Services in collaboration with The Urban Tech Hub @ Company, and CIV:LAB to crowdsource solutions to support the city's commercial districts and small storefront businesses. Project entries are being accepted through December.

The NYC Small Business Resource Network, a public-private partnership funded by a $2.8 million grant from the New York-based Peter G. Peterson Foundation and supported by in-kind contributions from other partners, is working with local entrepreneurs "to gain access to a range of programs and services," according to the website.

In San Francisco, businesses in certain neighborhoods can get up to $5,000 reimbursed for past, in progress, or future work through the SF Shines for Reopening grant.

Credit...Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle, via Associated Press

GoFundMe, the fund-raising platform, has started the Small Business Relief Initiative, partnering with Yelp, Intuit QuickBooks, Bill.com and GoDaddy to provide owners with grants and resources. GoFundMe, QuickBooks and Yelp have each donated $500,000 to the Small Business Relief Fund, and it is open for anyone to donate. There will also be matching grants of $500 to qualifying businesses that raise at least $500 on GoFundMe.

IFundWomen, a crowdfunding platform, is giving microgrants to women-run businesses, issued on a rolling basis. Register with the site and click "start a campaign" to be considered for a relief grant.

The Verizon Business Comeback Coach program offers free business services, including one-on-one coaching, videoconferencing via BlueJeans for one month and two free months of One Talk, which connects office phones to mobile devices. Yahoo Small Business Business Maker has a free website builder, as well as free domains and business email addresses.

Despite these options, owners face daunting challenges, and many are just staying in business. A lot rides on the future of P.P.P. loans.

"We have made it through so far," said Carl Sobocinski, 52, the founder of Table 301 Restaurant Group, which operates six restaurants in Greenville, S. C.

Last spring, Mr. Sobocinski furloughed 80 percent of his 400 employees. Management took a 20 percent pay cut, and menus were pruned. He was also able to work with lenders to defer some of the company's mortgage payments for three months.

The business is now breaking even, at roughly 65 percent of last year's revenues of $22 million, and the employee roster is now 300.

"We applied early for P.P.P. funds — a total of around $1 million, and that made all the difference in bringing our work force back," Mr. Sobocinski said. "As long as we don't have another complete shut down, I feel we will make it."

Kansas governor announces $37.5 million in grants for KS small businesses - KWCH

Posted: 16 Nov 2020 03:31 PM PST

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Kansas Governor Laura Kelly on Monday (Nov. 16) announced that nearly 2,000 small businesses in Kansas will receive a share of $37.5 million in Small Business Working Capital (SBWC) grants. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees were eligible to apply for the SBWC grant funding. Kelly's Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) Taskforce made the funding available through the federal CARES Act. Businesses can use the funds for working capital expenses including payroll, insurance, rent, mortgage payments, utilities and inventory.

"Through the CARES Act funding, we've enhanced our public health response, upgraded our technology infrastructure, made sure children could keep learning, helped businesses stay open and created jobs," Julie Lorenz, Executive Director of the Office of Recovery, said. "There are still many unmet needs and with additional federal funding and flexibility, we could deliver more investments to serve Kansans and industries that continue to suffer from the pandemic."

The SPARK Taskforce and the Kansas Department of Commerce will maintain the SBWC grant funding, Kelly's office said. They will also maintain PPE Procurement and Connectivity Emergency Response Grant programs, should more CARES Act funding become available from the federal government.

"Small businesses are the backbone of the Kansas economy, and they keep our communities strong and vibrant," Secretary of Commerce David Toland said. "We're glad to have been able to provide critically-needed working capital to nearly 2,000 businesses, but the need for liquidity doesn't end there. We need to have their backs. The Department of Commerce will always stand ready to assist businesses across Kansas, pandemic or not."

The online application process for several other SPARK grant programs remains active. Details are available at www.kansascommerce.gov/covidrelief.

Copyright 2020 KWCH. All rights reserved.

Small businesses take advantage of CT CARES Grants - Yale Daily News

Posted: 17 Nov 2020 08:48 PM PST

Karen Lin, Contributing Photographer

Small business owners in New Haven are working to improve their financial circumstances by applying for state grants intended to alleviate revenue losses incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In October, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced the Connecticut CARES Small Business Grant Program. The program is an effort by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, or DECD, to lessen economic obstacles that small business owners are facing as a result of downturns in business due to the pandemic. The DECD dedicated $50 million of the state's allotted Federal CARES — Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security — budget to the grant program, which will provide struggling establishments with one-time, no-strings-attached $5,000 grants.

The online application was released the week of Nov. 9 and completed applications take several days to process. According to the CT CARES website, businesses must satisfy a handful of specific criteria in order to be eligible to apply for the recovery package. Some of these criteria include having fewer than 20 full-time employees in 2019 or a 2019 payroll under $1.5 million, maintaining standing as an operable business that plans to reopen and being able to demonstrate at least a 20 percent loss in revenue over the past year. 

For small New Haven establishments that have had limited sales over the past six months, such as Book Trader Cafe, these are not difficult requirements to meet.

"It says you must be able to demonstrate a 20 percent loss of revenue for this year," said David Duda, owner of Book Trader Cafe. "That won't be hard at all. It's been much higher than that. … I don't know exactly what it is but it could be a 100 percent loss in revenue. I'm not sure we made any money this year." 

Earlier this year, the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, initiative by the U.S. Small Business Administration supported some small businesses. This support came in the form of forgivable loans as an incentive for businesses to keep a certain minimum number of employees on the payroll during the pandemic.

Claire Criscuolo, owner of Claire's Corner Copia, shared that the PPP federal stimulus money was absolutely essential to her business's success over the past six months. 

"I don't know how we would have stayed in business [without PPP stimulus money]," Criscuolo shared. "I don't know how we could have continued."

However, other local businesses could not benefit from PPP loans –– such as Duda of Book Trader, who said he did not qualify for them. As Duda was the only employee throughout the duration of the cafe's six-month closure, he did not satisfy the loan criteria — which states that 70 percent of the PPP money had to be allocated to labor costs and used within three months. 

The CT CARES Small Business Grant Program's eligibility requirements are designed to aid businesses such as Duda's that did not qualify for other government loans. 

Multiple such businesses told the News in interviews that they found the CT CARES application process much more streamlined than that of the PPP. According to Criscuolo, the CT CARES application was quick and easy. 

"I prepared myself like the PPP SBA loans where it was so stressful for me," Criscuolo commented. "This was the easiest, most simple, wonderful [application process]. They did a great job with it."

The CT CARES recovery package comes at an opportune time for many establishments that have struggled to generate revenue during the pandemic. 

Carrien Joseph owns Any Occasion Creation Florist, a flower delivery company. Joseph said she was negotiating her current commercial lease and only doing local deliveries toward the beginning of the year when the pandemic hit. Though she continued with her planned move to a new store location on Howe Street in the summer, Joseph said that the pandemic was a tough environment to build a business in. 

"It's very difficult to generate revenue with limited traffic due to COVID-19," Joseph said in an email to the News. "Our online sales increased slightly during the summer, however, it didn't replace our largest revenue drivers, e.g., weddings, private events, etc."

According to the CT CARES website, the state government permits the use of grant money in a number of ways, ranging from utilities and payroll to rent and inventory. This is intended to provide flexibility for different businesses, all facing a wide array of difficulties. 

Joseph, as the sole proprietor of her floral company, said she plans to use the funding for overhead bills and online advertising. Despite the slight uptick in flower sales over the summer months, Joseph said she hopes that the CT CARES grant would have a more substantial impact on her business. 

"This grant will go a long way in creating a financial bridge into our busy season," Joseph commented. "Due to our new location, we anticipate growing our sales substantially in 2021. The funds will go towards rent and inventory for our largest day for sales, Valentine's Day, in February."

Criscuolo of Claire's Corner Copia said that she would put the grant money toward health insurance. She expressed her discontent over the country's healthcare system as a small business owner working to make ends meet. 

"Considering we live in the insurance capital of America, it's unacceptable that we can't even afford [health insurance]," Criscuolo said. "You can only make so much selling organic salads and food and paying your staff your wages. There's usually no money left over for health care at the expensive amount that it is."

For many small businesses, the pandemic has caused multiple logistical difficulties, from rent to paying employees. Duda said running Book Trader Cafe as a restaurant-bookstore combination involves high labor costs. 

"We have cut back a lot, but there is a certain minimum of labor needed to keep a business open and we will apply it towards that," Duda said. "With the PPP money, we weren't open so there were no labor costs. The profit margin of our sales these days is not covering our labor costs."

Duda commented that he could apply funds from the CT CARES Small Businesses Grant Program to "just about anything," as they are "behind on everything." He shared that it would be extremely difficult to survive the stretch when students are gone from Thanksgiving to February without this external aid.

With students taking their finals remotely, Book Trader Cafe will also be missing out on their usual winter bump in sales. At the end of each semester, Duda said the bookstore buys back textbooks from students, which helps to push the shop through the slow period of the winter months. However, this year, he said he hopes that the stimulus money will mitigate these losses. 

Criscuolo said she hopes that the customers will differentiate among stores that abide by public health guidelines during the pandemic and support the ones that are following rules. 

"It would be helpful if we could distinguish between businesses that are really doing every single thing possible to make it safer," Criscuolo shared. "You have one bad person in a group and everyone gets painted with the same brush and that's just wrong."

Funds for approved applicants will be distributed to the business owners by the Department of Economic and Community Development on or before Dec. 30, 2020.

Sydney Zoehrer | sydney.zoehrer@yale.edu

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