The Business Magazine of the Fishing & Marine Industry

Are Federal Small Business Relief Programs Working?

Like many small business owners, Chris Morey’s cashflow came to a screeching halt in early March. Also like many small business owners, Morey applied for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) from the Small Business Administration (SBA) as soon as the federal CARES Act was signed by the president on March 27. And like many small business owners, Morey eventually applied for the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) as well.

This week, as individual stimulus checks began to hit American bank accounts, Morey—like many small business owners—is still waiting on relief from the SBA.

Morey runs Ferocious Graphix, a commercial sign company on the outskirts of Memphis, Tennessee. “My business went from a million miles an hour to nothing in hours,” he tells. “I applied for the EIDL loans as soon as I could, and I sill haven’t heard back on that. All I got was a confirmation number, even after sitting on hold on the phone for two hours one day. Two weeks later, I applied for the Paycheck Protection Program, and yesterday I got a call from my local bank saying it has been approved.” The process, he says, wasn’t easy. “I was just as confused as everyone else with this stuff. I was getting conflicting information, and I ended up contacting my local bank on the advice of another colleague. That’s how it initiated.”

Morey’s experience highlights the real world contrast between the two most prominent types of federal relief for small businesses included in the CARES Act. EIDL loans are being processed directly by the SBA, a small, 4,000-employee branch of the federal government that is used to processing dozens of disaster relief requests a week … not millions. And while the SBA has hired an additional 7,000 employees and contracted with some mortgage brokers to speed up its approval process, EIDL loans are still lagging behind PPP loans, which are being handled by more than 30,000 banks.

Neither program is without hurdles.

“I still had to jump through some hoops and send some more forms once I got the call from my local bank,” adds Morey. “I still haven’t seen the money yet.”

It has now been more than a month since large parts of the economy were forced to a closure amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. Scientific models suggest that social distancing will need to remain in place until at least late May in many areas. To make ends meet, Morey has adapted Ferocious Graphix into a consumer facing business on the fly. “We started selling yard signs for $20 a piece,” he notes. The signs support high school seniors who are now unable to participate in graduation ceremonies. “It has been a blessing to be honest, but I’m not built for this. I’m built for filling a few large orders every day, not a single small order times a million. That part has been different, but financially it is helping.”

On a conference call with members of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) last week, Congressman Garret Graves (R-LA) echoed the concerns that small business owners are having with delays from the EIDL and PPP programs.

“Pretty much no one has been processed for EIDL,” said Rep. Graves. “The SBA system was completely overwhelmed on EIDL because it was approved first, and it was the only program that was really out there for a few weeks.” Graves added that the EIDL program allows for a $10,000 grant even if an applicant is not approved for the loan, but it and the PPP are not the only options available for small business owners. “There are numerous programs out there for small to medium-sized businesses that offer a shot in the arm. There really shouldn’t be anybody out there who doesn’t have something out there to give them an opportunity to at least stay afloat over the next few months.”

One of the lesser known programs in place to help businesses in the fishing industry is a $300M appropriation for the Department of Commerce set aside specifically for fishery participants. Those appropriations are being run through NOAA Fisheries, similar to disaster relief funds for events like hurricanes. According to Graves, qualifying businesses include persons, tribes, communities, aquaculture businesses, processors or other fishing related businesses who have incurred a direct or indirect loss as a result of COVID-19. To qualify, revenue loss must be greater than 35% of their prior five-year average.

ASA Vice President of Government Affairs Mike Leonard says those funds will likely be distributed to coastal states in the coming weeks, and applicants will rely on the states to distribute the funds. Business owners should be aware that the NOAA Fishery funds are being split between the recreational fishing industry and the commercial fishing industry.

Meanwhile, the PPP program, which was allocated nearly $350B, has already run out of funding. Congress will need to approve a $250B refill of those funds in order for it to continue. Rep. Graves expects the funding to eventually pass after the usual tussle between Republicans and Democrats over details.

With NOAA funds likely to take some time to distribute before being split between commercial and recreational fishing operations, the PPP and EIDL programs remain business owners’ best hope for federal relief in the form of cash deposits.

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