This story is part of a series about Washtenaw County businesses' response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Support for this series is provided by Ann Arbor SPARK.
For many small business owners across Washtenaw County, COVID-19 has been a financial blight. While some have had to close shop permanently, many others are still looking for ways to stay afloat – and a number of emergency loans, grants, and other financial resources can serve as a lifeline.
At first glance, the options can appear overwhelming, says Spencer Field, a consultant at the Michigan Small Business Development Center (Michigan SBDC).
"It's a hyper-confusing time. Information is constantly shifting and oftentimes the information is self-contradictory," he says. "If a business owner is not confused, then they're not reading enough right now."
The SBDC works with about 6,000 small businesses across the state and Field personally works with about 200 businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area. He reports that the middle of March marked the start of "full and unabated chaos," as the government started rolling out financial relief efforts for small business owners.
Although things have settled down somewhat, Field is keeping busy helping small business owners sort through potential avenues of financial aid. There are a handful of programs that he usually highlights.
Field will often encourage clients to apply for help through EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan), a Small Business Administration (SBA) federal program with two parts.
"Part A was a grant and that part closed down on July 13, but people can get a loan through Part B," he says. "It's a very low-interest loan at just 3.75%, to be repaid over the course of 30 years."
Businesses can apply for a loan directly through the SBA, which has made these loans very accessible by reducing credit score requirements and collateral requirements to what Field describes as "obscenely low levels."
A second option is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which allows businesses to get a loan through a lending institution such as a bank, a credit union, or an online institution. There is still about $128 billion available through PPP, Field says. And if the majority of a PPP loan is spent on payroll, then the federal government will repay all or some of the loan on a business owner's behalf.
Field also advises small business owners to not overlook private sector funds. He says there are hundreds of grants available across the country.
"There is currently $10 million available to businesses in the agriculture industry and something like $8.5 billion available for businesses that need to increase their safety requirements," he says. "There are so many things people can apply for. Lowe's recently announced a grant program and PNC Bank in Detroit also just launched a loan program."
Field adds that many private sector relief options fall under the radar because they cater more to niche businesses and may be under-publicized. Many people hear about them through word of mouth.
But it's important that business owners do all they can to get informed about their options. The most common misconception that Field hears from small business owners is that getting help is just too complicated.
"I've spoken to so many business owners who know that the money they need is out there, but they're just so emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, and spiritually overwhelmed," he says. "They don't know how to engage in the process and refuse to do anything because they feel they don't have resources."
Field tells them that their reaction is understandable, but they must reach out for help because the longer-term economic fallout from COVID-19 has yet to arrive. A small business may not need the money today, but may need it down the road, so it makes sense to get financial help while it is still available.
"If you need some support, a shoulder to cry on, or a hand to hold, the [Michigan SBDC] and other local economic development organizations are here to help," he says. "Now is not the time for small business owners to tap out. It's time to get a sip of water and get ready for round two."
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Spencer Field.