What the Payment Protection Program could mean for Flint businesses

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Flint, MI – After being drained of funds, the Paycheck Protection Program has now been reloaded by a bill passed Thursday–but for some local businesses, applying for loans has already been confusing and frustrating.

Dean Yeotis, owner of Totem Books said he started the application process hopeful the first time congress passed a PPP package, but was quickly frustrated.

“It’s been nothing but holdups,” he said.

Yeotis said he was denied for a loan because his payroll information “couldn’t be processed,” he said, even though he said he sent the information through his accountant.

The purpose of PPP was to slow down the rate of unemployment and to keep money from being drained out of smaller mom and pop stores. The $350 billion fund provides loans meant to give small business owners some financial cushion as they wait out the worst of the pandemic. The program allows small business owners to go to a private bank and apply for a loan which the government will pay, so long as they keep their employees.

The state-mandated stay-at-home order has led to increased distress for these local businesses since most operate on a brick-and-mortar level only. Without the luxury of ecommerce websites for customers to make their purchases, many small businesses are left high and dry.

“When you don’t have revenue because the store’s closed, but you still have bills, it’s challenging,” Yeotis said.

One issue business owner faced during the first round of PPP loans was that the Small Business Association’s website—where business owners apply for loans—continued to crash due to the number of people trying to apply.

When the site reopened for applications April 27, the site crashed that same day.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee has taken issue with how Michiganders were represented in how PPP funds were doled out the first time around.

On April 19, Kildee penned a letter to the SBA airing his frustrations.

“Michigan has processed over 1 million unemployment claims, representing nearly a quarter of our state’s labor force,” the letter reads. “Yet, despite this extraordinary demonstrated need, Michigan currently ranks 35 out of 50 states when it comes to PPP loans processed.”

Ken Van Wagoner, owner of The Good Beans Café, is one business owner who  said he’s not going to even bother trying to apply.

“The main reason is I don’t quite understand it, and the second reason is that I don’t think I qualify,” he said.

Van Wagoner says he is not as worried as other businesses might be about not getting a loan. “I have the fortune of having been there 20 years, so I have a lot of things going for me that a lot of other businesses don’t, so I can weather the storm for a while. So for now personal safety for my employees as well as my customers is paramount.”

But for those businesses who aren’t so fortunate, the future remains unclear.

“The outlook is obviously uncertain,” Tyler Rossmaessler, Director of Economic Development at the Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce, said, adding that what comes next for Flint businesses will play a large role in what Flint looks like after the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of ways to see small businesses. Not only are they job creators and wealth producers, they define our sense of place,” he said.

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