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SBA help still available for businesses hurt by pandemic

The Paycheck Protection Program, whose paperwork is seen here, is far from the only business assistance program available through the Small Business Administration. (AP Photo/Wayne Partlow)

The Paycheck Protection Program, whose paperwork is seen here, is far from the only business assistance program available through the Small Business Administration. (AP Photo/Wayne Partlow)

The number of vaccinated Americans of all ages is climbing, schools are reopening and social gatherings are on the rise.

But for many small businesses, the pain and havoc caused by COVID-19 is far from over.

A June survey by Alignable, a small business platform, found that 62 percent of small business owners are still feeling the impact of the pandemic on their business.

More than half (55 percent) said it was harder to find new employees or convince past workers to return, and one quarter said they are finding it difficult to access supplies and inventory.

Meanwhile, the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which during the pandemic made some $800 billion in Small Business Administration loans to 8.5 million small businesses, closed to new applicants May 31.

Despite these challenges, SBA officials say small businesses that suffered during the pandemic  have access to a number of programs, including longstanding programs and those available as part of the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, which is open until the end of the year.

“We’ve made great strides since the pandemic began but we’re not done yet, there is still work to be done,” said Stephen D. Umberger, district director of the SBA Baltimore Office.

“We are dedicated to Maryland entrepreneurs and making sure they have access to the information and opportunities available to them.”

The traditional SBA loan programs are many, according to SBA officials.

The list includes:

  • The 7(a) Loan Program. SBA’s most common loan program offers financial help for small businesses with special requirements. The money can be used for buying the needed real estate, short- and long-term working capital or purchasing furniture, fixtures and supplies, among other needs.
  • The CDC/504 Loan Program. This program offers long-term, fixed-rate financing of up to $5 million for fixed assets that promote business growth and job creation. It is available to for-profit companies with a tangible net worth of less than $15 million and an average net income of less than $5 million.
  • The Microloan Program. This program offers loans of up to $50,000 to help small businesses start up and expand. The average loan is about $13,000.

The SBA also still offers programs aimed at helping businesses recover from the pandemic. They include:

  • The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (https://sba.gov/disaster): These loans are typically available when natural disasters strike, as a way of helping small businesses recover. But because of the pandemic, the entire country was declared eligible for the program, which will remain open until Dec. 31, or until the funds are exhausted. The disaster loans are traditional low-interest, long-term loans, and are available to small businesses or nonprofit organizations that suffered “substantial economic injury” because of the pandemic. The money can be used for working capital or normal operating expenses, such as rent and utilities.
  • Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (visit Shuttered Venue Operators Grant at sba.gov): This program is aimed at helping live venue operators and performing arts groups, including some theaters, museums and zoos. Eligible applicants may qualify for grants equal to 45% of their gross earned revenue.

Another SBA pandemic program proved so popular that its funding was quickly exhausted. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund had been set up to help to restaurants, bars, food trucks and others. But applications quickly overwhelmed available funds, and hundreds of Maryland restaurants were shut out of the program.

Besides the loan programs, SBA’s traditional partners, such as the Maryland Small Business Development Center Network, SCORE, Women’s Business Centers and the new Veterans’ Business Outreach Center, are open and continue to offer free, one-on-one counseling and low-cost training.

“It’s been a tough time for us all, personally and professionally, but our small businesses have been hit especially hard,” Umberger said. “We want to make sure they know what programs are available and that help is out there.”