It took Lance White months to receive his loan under the Paycheck Protection Program when it was first created through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in late March last year.
While government officials were scrambling to implement and make fixes to new policies regarding financial aid, White worried for his small business that he has owned for more than 30 years now, Lance’s Jewelry, which is located on Market Place Boulevard in Cumming.
After being forced to temporarily close his store, White said he could not find any information about the program or the loan process. His accountant didn’t even have answers for him as many were still unsure of how and when they could apply.
But with the second round of PPP loan applications under way, White is just one of many business owners in Forsyth County who are happy with the changes made to the program in December and feel much more confident applying for a loan.
“The PPP should really help to get us over the hump to where we’re back on top again,” White said. “Because last year has been one of the slowest year’s I’ve had in 20 years. It was a scary year. But now I’m a little more hopeful this is going to help us out.”
The Small Business Association opened up the program for some lenders last week, and they have officially opened it more broadly, accepting applications from all lenders beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
During this time, the program is open both to first-time borrows and to returning business owners who have seen at least a 25% drop in their sales since the beginning of the pandemic.
Alex Warner, existing industry project manager with Forward Forsyth, said that he and those with the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce are working hard to get information out about the new CARES Act and help small businesses in the county through the loan process.
Warner has already started giving webinars, available free online to anyone in the business community, to provide information about the second round of PPP loans and to answer business owners’ questions about eligibility, loan terms, the application process and resources.
He gave the first webinar on Jan. 21, and he plans to host two others on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 10 a.m. and at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 4. Leaders from the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center will also help during some of the webinars to answer questions.
The webinars are available live through the Chamber’s website at web.focochamber.org/events.
The Chamber also worked to send out postcards to businesses in Forsyth County and to Chamber members to share information and let them know that PPP round two is available and that the first round is available to new businesses.
“We’re doing whatever we can to let every small business know what’s available to them,” Warner said.
The Chamber offered similar help when the loan program was first passed through the CARES Act in late March of 2020 soon after businesses started to shut down as the pandemic started to have an impact on the U.S. economy.
While many struggled to understand the program when it was first created, Warner explained that Forsyth County was one of the first communities in the state and even in the U.S. to start sharing information about the program for small businesses. He started holding three to four webinars each week, and said people from other communities such as metro Savannah would join in to learn more.
Although those at the Chamber have been busy working to help small business owners as they still have many questions about the changes to the program, Warner said that the programming is much more clear than it was when it was first launched and he is confident that this round could help small businesses even more than the first.
“The banks aren’t being shell shocked with, ‘hey, we rolled out this plan. All of your businesses are going to be calling on you. Oh and by the way, you have 48 hours to create a portal to get their applications,’” Warner said. “Nine months did a lot to help ease that process.”
Federal lawmakers also focused the process more on small business owners when making changes to the program in December.
As far as loan forgiveness, Warner explained that businesses that borrow under $150,000 now only have to sign a one-page affidavit instead of filing detailed paperwork to show how they used the loan, putting less stress on banks and owners.
More entities and organizations can now apply for the loan, including nonprofits, but the loans will also better help those who have been most impacted by the pandemic. For example, those filing under industries such as hospitality, where they have lost most of their business, will see a larger payout in loans than they did in the first round of the PPP.
“I do believe that the way they’ve changed the program in this new bill passed in December, that it is much more centric through small business and those that have truly been affected by the pandemic,” Warner said.
“Through the first round, all you had to do was say, ‘Hey, I’ve been affected by the pandemic. Give me PPP.’ This next round, you have to prove it. You have to bring up a quarter-by-quarter analysis from 2019 to 2020 showing that you have a 25% deficit. If you don’t, then your business survived the pandemic. You shouldn’t be qualifying for these funds.”
Businesses have until March 31 to apply for another loan, and information on how to apply is available both on the SBA and Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce website.
Details on loan forgiveness and other help relating to PPP will continue to change as lawmakers make final decisions. For up-to-date information on the PPP, visit www.together4foco.com. The Together 4 FoCo initiative was started by the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce to bring residents and businesses together during the pandemic to support each other.
While White begins the process to apply for his second loan, he is reassured and excited to see the resources available to him and other business owners.
“You look at the small businessman like myself who was forced to close,” White said. “It’s hard to climb out of that. So I’m happy that they’re finally looking out for the small businessman and we’re getting something taken care of.”