What is the difference between “big” and “small” businesses in an aggressive capitalist system like the American one? It’s relative, especially in the time of COVID-19 and under the catastrophic administration of President Donald Trump. As the pandemic immobilized the United States economy, Trump promised to help small business owners by providing them economic relief. Many owners breathed a sigh of relief until faced with the stark reality that the money had gone to big business.
On April 16th, the first-come, first-serve loans, worth nearly $350 billion and approved by the government to help small businesses, officially ran out of funds, leaving hundreds of business owners adrift. Some couldn’t submit their applications in time to even be considered.
These so-called Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans were designed by the government to help businesses with up to 500 employees cover payroll expenses, as well as overhead, while the country survives the pandemic.
With more than 1.6 million applications — and between delays, platform failures, and lack of information — business owners don’t know where they stand. There is little doubt that independent contractors and self-employed people were at a disadvantage as they couldn’t apply until April 10 —a full week after it opened to small businesses —and the Treasury didn’t issue application guidance until April 14.
“There’s no communication going out,” said Lisa Cavalli, publisher of BELatina, who said that, after talking to her community bank, she realized that a large chunk of the government’s funds had gone directly to a large restaurant chain across the country that had furloughed their employees to be eligible for the funds.
“As a small business owner and publisher that provides life-saving content to the Latino community, one disproportionately affected by COVID-19, I have been kicked in the teeth today, abandoned by the SBA, and being told there is no more money,” she added.
In a recent tweet, Joe Scarborough, of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, asked: “Why are so many small business owners telling me they’re getting no help from the PPP program?” The answer is simple:because we are not and we are being screwed royally to the wall.
Kasie Hunt tweeted in response to Scarborough: “I have yet to find a small business owner in my personal orbit who has received or knows someone who has received a loan. One I talked to was livid to read in the WSJ about Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse getting one. The assumption was that the banks just took their biggest money clients to the front.”
I have yet to find a small business owner in my personal orbit who has received or knows someone who has received a loan. One I talked to was livid to read in the WSJ about Ruth Chris Steakhouse getting one. Assumption was banks just took their biggest money clients to front
— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) April 17, 2020
According to the New York Post, the companies behind big chains like Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, by contrast, received $20 million and $10 million from the program, respectively, despite each having more than 5,000 employees.
Although U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and SBA Administration Jovita Carranza issued a joint statement on Wednesday urging Congress to “appropriate additional funds” for the PPP loan, small business owners have no idea what will happen or how to cope with the lack of information.
“I have now been told that I have to find the money elsewhere to pay my 15+ writers, who have stuck by our mission because it is a matter of helping others,” Cavalli continued.
According to Politico, both Potbelly and Ruth’s relied on the reach of their large bank, JPMorgan, to have an expedited path to usurp a loan that also exceeds the cap of 10 million stipulated by the Paycheck Protection Program.
“Big Wall Street-backed restaurant chains that pay their executives’ super-sized bonuses should not be the first served up SBA loans by this administration,” said Derek Martin, a spokesperson for the watchdog group Accountable.US to Politico.
“What a slap in the face to the untold thousands of legitimate small businesses that will not survive this crisis, many because they couldn’t get the help they were promised from the president soon enough, if at all.”
Meanwhile, Trump took to Twitter to demand that Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia “LIBERATE,” compounding the pressure on state leaders to ease their strict social distancing measures amid the coronavirus pandemic and adding to the frustration of the average American small business owner.
Trump is fomenting anarchy in his own country and lacerating the prospect of recovery by rendering the small business owner as bloody collateral damage and pitting the states against each other and Washington. The coronavirus might well turn out to be the least of our worries.