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With PPP fund empty, can other programs to help small businesses provide relief?

Over the past 14 months, the U.S. Government has allocated hundreds of billions of dollars to help small businesses survive the pandemic's economic hurdles. All that funding has been managed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, but many of the programs are struggling. Lisa Desjardins has been following the money and joins Judy Woodruff with the details.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Over the past 14 months, the U.S. government has allocated hundreds of billions of dollars to help small businesses survive the pandemic's economic hurdles.

    All that funding has been managed by the Small Business Administration, whose head was on Capitol Hill today giving an update.

    Our own Lisa Desjardins has been following the money as well, and she joins me now.

    Hello to you, Lisa.

    So, Lisa, we know several of these programs are ending, and we learned today that at least one of them is far short of the money that these businesses need. So, tell us where all this stands.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    There is so much good news these days about opening, increased vaccinations, people's lives moving forward. But it's important to talk about small businesses. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, at the beginning of this month, about a third of America's small businesses were still struggling to get back to 2019 levels.

    Now, to help them, of course, what we have been talking about all this time is, eight different bills passed the U.S. Congress to help these small businesses, some of them extensions, some of them new programs.

    And I want to look at where those programs are right now, those kind of lifebloods for these businesses through this pandemic.

    First of all, PPP, the Paycheck Protection Program, that is the biggie. Now, look at this. That program has actually run out of funding at this point. And it's given out about $795 billion. Technically, it's still open to applications. But, again, that money has now run out.

    Another one to talk about is a relatively new one called the restaurant relief funding program. That program closed for applications just a couple of days ago on Monday, a much smaller program, $28.6 billion. And that is the one that is far short of the money that it looks like restaurants need, again, $28.6 billion. We learned today that restaurants across the country have applied for $76 billion.

    That's almost $50 billion more than the program has on hand. One more I will mention very quickly, there's a program called Shuttered Venues. That's for theaters, concert venues, museums, some other nonprofit kind of large group activity centers. That program still does have money left and will be open until that money is gone. That seems to be the one area where there is still some give right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, let's go back to what you were saying about restaurants and the massive shortfall they are facing.

    You have been talking to restaurant owners. What are you learning about what this shortfall could mean?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. It's hard to think of any industry — and we don't know of any industry that can prove it was harder hit during the pandemic than the restaurant industry.

    One million restaurants operate in this country in normal times. According to the National Restaurant Foundation, they say — association — they say 90,000 restaurants closed either permanently or long term during this pandemic.

    And the issue is that many of these restaurants have thin margins in even the best of times, 5 percent to 6 percent that they're making over what they charge. So, let's look at this program that was designed to help them, but which is struggling to have enough funding for that.

    Again, this program is called the Restaurant Relief Fund. It is intended to cover sales, the drop in sales between 2019 and 2020. Now, if a restaurant got Paycheck Protection money, that money will come out as well. They can do both, but they can't double-dip.

    Again, the funding for this program, $28.6 billion. And, so far, restaurants have applied for $76 billion. And the Small Business Administration was very clear today in saying they are going to have to make choices. They will not be able to give out this money to every restaurant that applies.

    That could mean 100,000 restaurants that have applied for this restaurant will — for this money will not get it. How will they decide? Congress, when they passed this restaurant program, said that the Small Business Administration must give it out first to priority groups.

    That includes the following, restaurants owned by women, by veterans, and by social or economically disadvantaged groups. That includes racial minorities and other minorities. So, what we have now is a situation of different business owners, different restaurant owners getting different things from this program.

    Our producer Matt Loffman was able to reach out to some of them and talk to them about the experiences. And, first, I want you to hear from this woman. Her name is Roberta Montelione. She owns a catering business, Milan Catering in Southwest Florida. And she believes she will get some of this relief money.

  • Roberta Montelione:

    And big sigh of relief. We think for OK. And then I look at my summer bookings, and recognize that I have got another big hole in the company.

    And so the restaurant grant is filling that hole. And it's just — I can't imagine — well, wouldn't be here without it. The company would have been long gone.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Now, a very different experience in Maryland.

    I want to take you to Blueridge Restaurant Group owner. His name is David Jones, it's a chain of restaurants. Most of them are reopening. But not all of them have fully reopened. Three of his restaurants are still in areas that have limitations.

    Now, he thinks he may not be able to get this money simply because he doesn't fit any of the priority groups. Here's what he had to say.

  • David Jones:

    We fully expect the fund to run out before it gets to us, and by all the communications come out from SBA. And that's — and that's unfortunate.

    So — but it would have really done a tremendous benefit to us and our employees, because I certainly would like to get some of our employees back up to where they probably should. We have people that are still behind on car payments and things like that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Now, I did talk to members of Congress today.

    Democrats, including the leader of the Small Business Committee, are going to push to add more funds. But Republicans don't — it doesn't sound like they're on board with that, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, of course, Lisa, this is not the only issue, set of issues before the Congress and the president right now. There are big deadlines coming up in terms of, what are they going to — what is Congress going to do about policing reform, about that January 6 commission?

    What do about where those stand?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    I spoke to South Carolina Congressman Tim Scott today. He's one of the lead negotiators on that, Republican of South Carolina. He told me that, in his mind, it's June or bust, meaning he's setting a deadline to figure out policing reform of the next month.

    Meanwhile, kind of just an idea of the pressure going on this at this time and sort of where we are with this, one of the moms, the parents of one of the police officers involved in January 6, Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after defending the Capitol — he died of a heart attack — she put out this statement today about wanting a January 6 commission.

    On that issue, she said: "Not having a January 6 commission is a — not having a January commission to look into exactly what happened is a slap in the faces of all the officers who did their jobs that day."

    And, meanwhile, on that issue, it's coming kind of — it's in the air at the same time. Here's where we are with that. The Senate could possibly vote on a January 6 commission as soon as tomorrow. Not for sure yet, but it's possible.

    Now, meanwhile, some Republican senators like Collins and Romney are trying to work out a deal on that, but most Republicans oppose it, some of them telling me they think it's political, Democrats want to use this against them. Others tell me, Republicans, that they think January 6 was something they don't think can be repeated — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Lisa Desjardins, so much to follow, and we will keep on asking you these kinds of questions.

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

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