The nation's smallest businesses moved to the front of the line as the Biden administration aims to improve access to the federally-backed Payment Protection Program (PPP).
Businesses with less than 20 employees and sole proprietors have an exclusive two-week window through March 9, when only their applications will be processed for PPP funding. This key addition is one of several new changes implemented Feb. 24 by the Small Business Administration.
"Very small businesses, especially those in marginalized communities often lack the resources to quickly apply for the PPP and other stimulus programs, so the time and money set aside by the administration are welcome," says Gary Romano, chief executive of Civitas Strategies LLC, a national management consultancy outside Boston that's helped more than 200 childcare providers apply for PPP funding and other coronavirus relief benefits.
Nearly all of its clients are black and Latino, women-owned, single-staffed businesses in neglected neighborhoods, a segment of the economy mostly left out of the first two PPP funding rounds.
Key Provisions of New Guidance
When announcing the new guidelines on Feb. 22, The White House noted that 98% of small businesses in the U.S. employ less than 20 workers.
The following changes in the PPP program have been implemented to help them:
- Revising the loan calculation formula provides more relief for sole proprietors, the self-employed, and independent contractors and retailers. Emphasizes gross profit rather than payroll costs. Support includes $1 billion for single-staffed businesses located in low and moderate-income areas.
- Eliminating restrictions on business owners who defaulted on federal student loans or were convicted of non-fraudulent felonies in the last year.
- Ensuring non-citizen business owners can apply using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security number.
Filing Tips and Strategies
The SBA will disclose more clarifications this week, although most updates won't go into effect until next week, explains certified commercial loan officer Anna Serio.
"Small business owners who have written off the PPP because they didn't get enough funding or couldn't qualify because of a default, felony, or ITIN should start preparing to apply," says Serio, a lending and finance contributor at N.Y.-based comparison site Finder.com. "The two-week window gives the smallest businesses a leg up, but the sooner you get your application in, the faster you'll receive your funds."
She recommends contacting a small business development center or another nonprofit business center for free assistance with the application and to discuss other potential options.
Maryland tax expert David Houston advises small businesses to utilize the two-week window while applications for larger companies are on hold.
"If your business has previously applied for the first round of PPP loans, you should try to use the same lender since they will already have a lot of your information on file," recommends Houston, a principal and Mid-Atlantic tax practice leader at UHY LLP Certified Public Accountants, a tax and business advisory with headquarters in Farmington Hills, Mich.
A Lifeline in Long Island
Jessica Dennehy, a Wall Street attorney turned entrepreneur, credits two rounds of PPP funding for helping her 10-year-old luxury barbershop business and budding coaching company in Long Island, N.Y., survive the pandemic.
"These loans have been a lifesaver for many small businesses, including my own," says the owner of Madmen Barbershop, and Pivot & Slay, which received over $70,000 in combined PPP funding. "If you are operational, the easiest way to be funded quickly is to rely on numbers from your payroll company alone, without adding in rent or expenses. This way, the evidence you provide for the loan application and forgiveness application is streamlined and efficient."
Both of her loans were forgiven, as most are expected to be under the SBA-backed program.
Jason Hawkins' experience, which included five automated rejections for round-two funding from a major national bank, couldn't be more different.
He spent over 20 hours on the phone with customer service to no avail. Follow-up emails didn't resolve anything. Then, a month later, out of the blue, he received a call from a business banker across the country who told him the loan amount was off by a few dollars, automatically triggering a rejection notice.
He made an update, and it was approved the following day.
"They were denying it for reasons that were incorrect. So, I felt like the system was failing me," says Hawkins, owner of Advertising for Surgeons, a digital marketing agency in Miami that ultimately received $92,000 in two PPP rounds.
More than 90% of the proceeds went to payroll, according to Hawkins, who offers this simple advice for applicants to help them avoid his nightmare scenario.
"Stay diligent and fight for the money if COVID-19 caused your business to suffer. Do not give up," he says.