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COVID-19

Eight weeks in, businesses face hard choices over PPP loans

Justin Ho May 22, 2020
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A bar in New York sells cocktails to go in March. Small businesses are still struggling eight weeks after the CARES Act became law. Victor J. Blue/Getty Images
COVID-19

Eight weeks in, businesses face hard choices over PPP loans

Justin Ho May 22, 2020
Heard on:
A bar in New York sells cocktails to go in March. Small businesses are still struggling eight weeks after the CARES Act became law. Victor J. Blue/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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Eight weeks ago today, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act became law. We checked back in with some of the small businesses and banks we spoke to on that first day to find out what the law has and hasn’t done for them.

It took a full week after the CARES Act became law for the small business loan provision, called the Paycheck Protection Program, to get up and running. By the end of that day, Ashwin Deshmukh said he was finally making some progress on securing a loan for his New York City cocktail bar.

“I feel like we’ll be able to get at least a loan — if not today, than by the middle of next week,” he’d said. It took over a month.

But by this week, Deshmukh said he’s optimistic. He’s shooting to reopen the bar for carryout service and delivery a week from today. And he’s using the loan money to hire a new chef, work on an all-new cocktail menu and start selling baked goods.

“These are things that we would not focus on if the world was different right now,” Deshmukh said.

Like a lot of business owners who got PPP loans, Deshmukh is struggling with how to meet the requirements to have the loan forgiven. Businesses have to spend 75% of it on payroll within eight weeks.

That’s a problem for Ken Giddon, who co-owns a menswear store in New York.

“Our eight-week period would be eight weeks that we are closed,” Giddon said. “Then it’s basically virtually impossible to fulfill the payroll obligations to get the loan forgiveness.”

And he said having to spend most of the loan money on payroll means he can’t spend it on what he calls his biggest problem — rent.

“Payroll is flexible. Rent is not. And rent can put small businesses out of business,” he said.

Some small businesses aren’t worrying about getting their loan forgiven.

Lorilyn Wilson co-owns an accounting firm in Portland, Oregon. She took out a PPP loan and said she’d rather keep cash on hand and pay off the loan later.

“Because it’s like I don’t want all my employees employed today, I also want them employed three months, six months, nine months, a year from now,” Wilson said. 

But there’s a risk that small businesses may not be able to pay back their loans if the virus spikes again later this year, Wilson said.

“Then the fear is ‘OK, can I actually keep my business going, or will I be forced to shut down in six months again?'” she said.

She added that small business owners are worried they’ll get caught up in a cycle of having to rehire people and then lay them off again.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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