SALT LAKE CITY — At a press briefing Tuesday, Gov. Gary Herbert called for all small businesses in Utah to apply for two federal loans to weather the current financial crisis — one of which will be forgiven if businesses comply with the requirements of the loan.

“My encouragement, my call to action ... to help us with the economic recovery ... is for every Utah business with less than 500 employees that has been impacted by COVID-19 to apply for a (Paycheck Protection Program) loan, an emergency disaster loan or both ... as soon as possible,” Herbert said.

The most important program for small businesses in Utah to be aware of is the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, a resource offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Herbert said.

Every business in Utah with fewer than 500 employees qualifies for the PPP, a loan of up to $10 million that covers payroll and other operating expenses — such as rent, mortgage interest and utility payments — for up to eight weeks.

PPP loans will be retroactive from Feb. 15, 2020, so businesses can rehire staff they let go prior to their application, according to the state’s resource web page for businesses, coronavirus.utah.gov/business.

The program is available to a variety of businesses, like mom and pop shops, contractors, freelancers, and local franchisees of restaurants and hotels, Herbert said.

If a company’s only employee is its owner, that business is also eligible, said Derek Miller, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and chair of the Utah Economic Response Task Force.

A key benefit of this loan is that it will be forgiven, Herbert said, as long as businesses keep their employees on their payroll and use the loan for designated operating expenses.

However, information for borrowers on the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s website states that no more than 25% of the forgiven amount may be for non-payroll costs — so the loan may not be as helpful for businesses that have significant non-payroll expenses.

Every qualifying business will receive the money they’re eligible for, Herbert said.

“The good news is the federal government’s saying, and Sen. Mitch McConnell’s saying, we will add additional money (to the program) so anybody who qualifies can in fact get one of these loans,” Herbert continued. “That’s good news for the economy.”

While Herbert expressed confidence that Congressional leaders will deliver on their commitment, there is a limited amount of aid that’s currently available to the country’s 30 million small businesses.

The funding for these loans comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed by President Donald Trump on March 27. On March 31, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Treasury announced the establishment the PPP loans, which were allotted $349 billion by the act, according to an SBA press release.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted on Tuesday, April 7, that he had asked Congressional leaders to secure an additional $250 billion to fund PPP loans, due to surging demand, but that funding is not yet secured.

The same day, at a regular press briefing, Trump said that about $70 billion in PPP loan applications had been processed, though banking associations told Reuters that much of that money has not yet been distributed.

Andrew Keinsely, assistant professor of economics at Weber State, is optimistic about the federal loans, but he thinks the total amount allotted to small businesses will need to be increased.

“The the amount of money that (Congress has) already put up will probably be ... claimed fairly quickly, so I definitely think they’re going to have to increase the amount of money. But, again, I think it’s a good start ... a step in the right direction,” Keinsley said.

He said the process of adding money to existing programs will likely be faster than determining how new programs would work, which had to be done before the CARES Act was passed.

The time it takes for businesses to be approved to receive the funds will probably be reasonable because the PPP program will be run primarily through lenders, he said. The SBA is limited in its capacity to administer programs, so lenders handling the PPP will allow the SBA to administer the smaller disaster loans.

Kim Bowsher, executive director of the Ogden Downtown Alliance, is involved in the effort to help local businesses navigate their applications for federal assistance. She also owns a local marketing and public relations business, so she has her own experience applying for the PPP.

In the long run, federal sources will play a bigger role than local support in keeping local businesses afloat, Bowsher said, but the time frame for businesses to receive federal money is unclear — and the application process, which varies by lender, can be confusing.

As a result, she recommends that small businesses first apply for any available local support — like the Ogden City Emergency Loan Fund — so they can survive through the next three weeks or more, while they’re applying for federal support and waiting to receive it.

Weber County leaders join forces, tout loan programs to aid ailing businesses

Local support is often for much lower amounts — the Ogden ELS is capped at $10,000 — but it’s a fast way for businesses who need “cash in hand,” she said.

The Ogden Downtown Alliance sends out a weekly email to its list of businesses with information about support that is available, including guidance on navigating applications for federal support, she said.

Keinsley agrees that the federal support for small businesses will play a larger role in the country’s economic recovery than will local aid, and he says these federal programs are crucial for the country to get back on its feet because small businesses make up a large part of the country’s economy.

The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 shutdowns is not a normal economic downturn, he said. The country hasn’t faced anything like this since the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918.

“I think that’s why ... the unimaginable of just sending people money is happening right now, and it’s being passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate,” Keinsley said. “It’s because of how dramatic and how unique the situation truly is. I feel like that’s something that ... when I talk to my students, when I talk to ... family, that seems to be kind of lost on a lot of people — is (that) this is a unique situation, and it requires a completely different set of tools to help fix it.”

PPP applications for small businesses and sole proprietorships opened April 3, while applications for independent contractors and self-employed individuals open Friday, April 10. More information can be found at www.sba.gov.

The application for low-interest disaster loans can also be found at www.sba.gov. These loans provide small businesses with working capital loans of up to $2 million to enable them to cope with a temporary loss of revenue, according to coronavirus.utah.gov/business.

The state has consolidated a list of resources for businesses — spanning federal, state and local levels — online at coronavirus.utah.gov/business.

For business owners who are overwhelmed with their options, or unsure how to navigate the application process, the Utah Economic Response Task Force has convened a Rapid Response Team to answer questions, Miller said. A link to the team’s help request form is also available on coronavirus.utah.gov/business.

Bowsher said that she and others are being trained to be a Rapid Response Team for the Northern Utah region, but there is not yet a confirmed date for when that resource will be available.

Contact reporter Megan Olsen at molsen@standard.net or 801-625-4227. Follow her on Twitter at @MeganAOlsen.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!