NEW YORK – Greek-American small business owner George Evageliou, President and Founder of Urban Homecraft, a custom woodworking company, was among the business owners voicing their concerns over the federal government’s aid program for small businesses in a New York Times article dated May 2.
Evageliou, “felt like one of the lucky ones” after “a $192,000 loan from the federal government’s small-business aid program arrived in his bank account last month,” the Times reported.
According to the program’s rules, “Evageliou has eight weeks from the day he received the cash to spend it,” the Times reported, adding that “nearly three weeks after the clock started on April 14, he hasn’t used a penny.”
However, “if Mr. Evageliou wants his loan to be forgiven, he must spend three-quarters of it paying the 16 workers he laid off from Urban Homecraft, his Brooklyn business, in late March,” the Times reported, noting that by “bringing his workers back now, when they can’t work in their fabrication shop or install woodwork in clients’ homes, won’t help his business, and if New York City remains shut when his eight weeks are up in mid-June, Mr. Evageliou would have to lay off his employees again — something he wants to spare them.”
The government has “made this so hard to use, it starts to feel like a lose-lose situation,” Evageliou told the Times.
While “the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program was meant to extend a lifeline to small businesses battered by the pandemic, allowing them to keep employees on the payroll… it has been dogged by problems” the Times reported, adding that “countless small businesses couldn’t get money, and hundreds of millions of dollars instead flowed to publicly traded companies.”
According to the Times, “many of the small businesses that did get loans are sitting on the money, unsure about whether and how to spend it,” and “that’s compromising the effectiveness of a program meant to help stabilize the country’s reeling economy.”
Howard M. Berkower, a New York lawyer who advises corporate clients, told the Times about the chaotic situation, “It’s impossible for businesses to have any degree of comfort that they’re following the rules when the rules are still being written.”
According to the Times report, “the $2 trillion CARES Act, which created the program, specifies that small businesses — generally those with fewer than 500 employees — can use the loan money to pay employees, but also for rent, utilities or interest payments. The loans will be forgiven if they are spent on those expenses within eight weeks and the business keeps paying the same number of employees, at the same rate, as it did before the pandemic.”
According to a restriction added by the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration (SBA), which runs the program, “For a loan to be forgivable, businesses have to spend at least 75 percent of it on payroll. Otherwise, the rules say, the borrower will pay interest of 1 percent on any portion of the loan that is not forgiven,” the Times reported.
It is not clear, however, what will happen “if borrowers keep all the money as a loan to be used later or if they must spend the entire sum within eight weeks, with an economic turnaround still months away,” the Times reported.
“Many lawyers are telling small-business owners that they think the loans can be used broadly, although no one is certain,” the Times reported, adding that “some bankers are reasoning that since the aid program is based on existing SBA programs that are more flexible, the pandemic loans will be, too.”
John Asbury, the chief executive of Atlantic Union Bankshares in Richmond, VA told the Times, “As long as they’re using the funding for the operating expenses of the business, our interpretation — and we think it’s clear — is yes, you can use it as effectively a working capital loan.”
Treasury and SBA officials would not confirm that interpretation, the Times reported. When asked about small business owners holding onto the funds while paying employees does not work for them, an SBA spokeswoman told the Times “that the funds must be used for purposes ‘consistent with the Paycheck Protection Program.’”
Some small business owners are waiting and making back-up plans in case the aid has to be paid back, while others have already used the aid to pay employees and the rent, but also see it as only a temporary fix anyway. They wonder if more aid will be available in the future.