The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating consequences for small businesses. Small business layoffs soared by 1,000 percent in March, with roughly 2 million employees losing their jobs, and that number is rising. Some businesses have closed, while others have been forced to cut employee hours drastically to stay afloat.
To help small businesses weather this storm, Congress created the Paycheck Protection Program as part of the coronavirus response bill we passed at the end of March. And I’m pleased to report that the Senate led the way to make approximately $300 billion in additional funding available for the program.
The Paycheck Protection Program is simple. It provides low-interest loans to small businesses to help them retain workers during this difficult time. Seventy-five percent of the loans must be used for worker salaries and benefits, while the remaining amount can be used for other expenses such as mortgage interest, rent, and utilities. The portion of the loan spent on salaries and other qualifying expenses can be forgiven completely, again, as long as at least 75 of the loan is used to cover payroll obligations.
A majority of businesses will likely not have to pay back any of their loan. I like to remind business owners to document how they spend their loans to ensure they can maximize the forgiveness.
We’ve already seen tremendous use of this program. More than 1.6 million small businesses, including thousands throughout South Dakota, immediately took advantage of these loans — so many, in fact, that the $349 billion originally appropriated for the program ran out completely. Republicans quickly moved to appropriate additional money, but Democrats dragged their heels, forcing the program to go without funding for a week. But Democrats finally agreed to a deal, and the president signed legislation appropriating approximately $300 billion in additional funding. This has already enabled nearly 1 million additional small businesses to take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program.
The application process for the loans is simple: Businesses just need to fill out a Paycheck Protection Program borrower form, which can be found at www.sba.gov, and submit it to a lender — likely the bank or credit union they already use. A list of Small Business Administration-approved lenders is also available at www.sba.gov. Approval for the loan usually takes just a few days, and businesses should see the funds within 10 days. For small businesses that don’t qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program, or who would prefer another option, there are multiple other relief measures available.
The same legislation that created the Paycheck Protection Program also created the Employee Retention Credit, a refundable tax credit that helps COVID-affected businesses keep employees on the books by reimbursing employers for part of the qualified wages they pay employees, up to $5,000 per employee. Congress also implemented an employment tax deferral, which allows employers to postpone payment of certain payroll taxes for the remainder of the year. Half of these deferred payroll taxes would be due in December 2021, and the other half would be due in December 2022.
Finally, small businesses can take advantage of the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, which provides low-interest loans to small businesses that have suffered economic injury as the result of a disaster. The legislation the president signed included funding to replenish this program, which also recently ran out of funding as a result of the pandemic. Small business owners can search “Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program advance” at www.sba.gov for more information on how to apply.
If you have trouble locating information for any of the assistance programs I’ve outlined, please contact one of my offices for additional guidance or visit www.thune.senate.gov/COVID19.
The past few weeks have been a time of unprecedented difficulty for small businesses. Hopefully, the loans and tax relief Congress has made available will provide a lifeline during this challenging period. Small businesses are key to the American economy, creating a substantial number of the new jobs in this country. Before the coronavirus pandemic, small businesses around the country were thriving — and my Republican colleagues and I are committed to ensuring that they thrive once again. We will continue to look for ways to help small businesses weather the rest of the pandemic and get back to doing what they do best — growing and creating jobs.
**Note to editors: A similar version of this op-ed first appeared in the Washington Examiner on April 28, 2020.