Monday was the first day small business owners could apply for loans through the newly reopened Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) – a forgivable loan program that provided relief to businesses at the onset of the pandemic.

By the end of Tuesday morning, more than 700 small business owners had contacted LiftFund, a nonprofit helping to administer the program in San Antonio, hoping to start the process for a PPP loan.

These were family restaurants, marketing firms, and trucking businesses – the “small, small businesses,” said Janie Barrera, the group’s president and CEO. The nonprofit provides lending services to these clients who otherwise don’t have a commercial bank account.

Last year, the organization processed $25 million in PPP loans to roughly 1,000 small businesses. The typical business had five employees and received a loan of around $25,000.

For these small business owners, the loans should provide much-needed support.

“They are breathing a sigh of relief that there’s a lifeline out there to keep them afloat, at least over the next couple of months,” said Richard Perez, president of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Among them is Martin Garcia, the owner of a gift and décor store on San Pedro Avenue called Gramercy Gift Gallery.

Last year, he applied and received a PPP loan through his community bank, TexStar. The amount was not substantial – under $10,000 – but it helped tide his business over during the tough pandemic months, he said.

He first applied after one of his employees sent him information about it. He struggled with the complicated paperwork – a point that was criticized in the first round.

“This is all very new to me,” said Garcia, who spends six days a week on the store floor. “I don’t have extensive experience in obtaining funding or grants, but I will spend time doing research.”

Garcia’s business model did not fit easily into the paycheck protection program, which bases the eligible loan amount on the size of the business’s payroll. Besides himself, there are two other paid staff members, and he said his business – a little over a year old when the pandemic struck – is not mature enough for him to collect a paycheck himself. He also works closely with seven artisans who sell products through his store, but they are not his employees.

But Garcia said the paperwork for the loan application in the latest round has been much simpler than it was the first time.

Gramercy Gift Gallery and owner Martin Garcia. Photos taken on January 12, 2021.
Gramercy Gift Gallery owner Martin Garcia stands outside of his store. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The federal government’s rollout of the first round of PPP loans last April was criticized for being inaccessible to many small business owners, who must often balance bookkeeping work alongside their other duties as chefs, drivers, and dishwashers. Without dedicated accountants, they scrambled to prepare the complex paperwork involved in the loans.

Meanwhile, large companies with teams of accountants and payroll contractors took the lion’s share of the first round of loans, whose funding ran out in a matter of weeks.

The current round is backed by more than $284 billion in funding, as part of the COVID-19 relief package signed at the end of 2020. The new injection puts the program’s total funding at $806 billion.

This time, the U.S. Small Business Administration is taking a more deliberate and targeted approach.

“This updated guidance enhances the PPP’s targeted relief to small businesses most impacted by COVID-19,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a news release. “We are committed to implementing this round of PPP quickly to continue supporting American small businesses and their workers.”

Community development financial institutions, which serve low-income, minority-owned, and other disadvantaged businesses, received first dibs on the funds Monday, with larger banks shut out until Wednesday.

These kinds of lenders, which include LiftFund, made up 10% of all PPP lenders in 2020, according to the SBA’s press release.

Adding to the focus on smaller businesses, some funding is designated specifically for community financial institutions, and new size requirements for borrowers will also block larger, wealthier businesses that received help last year.

The loans come as the U.S. economy shed 140,000 jobs in recent months, and as the coronavirus pandemic has reached its worst point yet.

Nationwide, more than 1 in 3 small business owners said they would not survive the next three months without additional financial support, and the same is true for more than 2 in 5 Black and Latino business owners, according to a survey of small business owners from the Small Business Majority, an advocacy group.

“This is a great second step,” Perez, the chamber president, said. But given the difficulties imposed on small businesses, Congress should still consider more stimulus funds – and perhaps even a major federal infrastructure bill to spur employment, he added.

“There’s still going to be a long time before we get our economy where it needs to be,” he said.

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham writes about business and technology. Contact him at waylon@sareport.org.