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Some relief possible for small businesses struggling through COVID-19 crisis

Federal relief may be on the way for small businesses making hard decisions about payroll and expenses through a stimulus bill, but loans are otherwise available through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“Any business that can show it has had diminished cash flow because of (the coronavirus) can apply for an emergency disaster loan,” said Ashley Bell, SBA regional director. “This is a direct loan from SBA, not through a normal lender.”

Applicants can go online at

Direct loans can be up to $2 million over a 30-year term, at 3.75% interest, with the first payment due in a year, said Bell, a Gainesville native.

And for the first time, nonprofit organizations can seek a direct loan, at 2.75% interest.

“We’re doing as much public relations as we can to get the word out, because we know every day is critical,” Bell said. “Our numbers show us that over half of America’s small businesses have zero to three months’ working capital. That means every day, every week, is critical.”

Congress is considering a $2 trillion stimulus package that would, among other things, provide $367 billion for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

“We don’t lobby on the bill, but we see there’s going to be major changes potentially to our function, as SBA,” Bell said. “There’s a lot of talk about whether or not these loans will be forgiven, but that’s a decision for Congress and the president to make.

“Right now, our focus is to get the cash to businesses that need it as soon as we possibly can.”

Bell noted that half of Americans work for a small business, and 98% of businesses are small.

As far as getting a response on a loan request, “in a normal world, you would hear back in two weeks,” he said. “We’re working very hard and getting all the possible resources we can and help from the private sector … to make sure we can keep that two-week commitment.”

Locally, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce is working with businesses to help them grapple through the crisis, including holding a free webinar, Leading Virtual Teams, on how employees can work together digitally.

“The world shifted faster than any of us thought possible this week, and leaders must learn how to guide their teams in what is now the ‘new 'normal,’” said the chamber email advertising the event, which took place Wednesday, March 25.

Chamber officials may hold a webinar next week on the SBA loans.

Otherwise, “we are in contact with our small businesses daily, just asking what we can do for (them) and answering questions,” said Kit Dunlap, chamber president.