NEW YORK – The federal government’s relief program for small businesses is off to a bumpy start Friday with few businesses able to apply and some big banks saying they’re not ready to process applications.
Millions of small businesses are expected to apply for these desperately needed rescue loans from the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program, which was put in place to help them retain workers and pay bills during the coronavirus pandemic.
The program is being overseen by the Small Business Administration, but banks handle the application process. Some large lenders like Wells Fargo, Huntington Bank and Bank of America said they are ready to go. Others like JPMorgan Chase said they wouldn’t accept applications on Friday, citing lack of guidance from the Treasury Department.
Even those that were accepting applications were limited in who they could accept. Bank of America said the loans were available to customers who had business deposit accounts and business loans with the bank. But glitches in the bank’s system stopped customer Marty Martinez from applying. He contacted the bank but was also considering looking elsewhere.
“If I don’t get in line quicker than the next person, then I have to wait even longer to get my team back to work,” said Martinez, who has laid off five staffers as his revenue plunged.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took to Twitter Friday morning to tout the opening of the program, saying, “Community banks had already processed over 700 loans for $2,500,000.” But some banks said they needed more guidance from the government before accepting applications.
MidwestOne, an SBA-preferred lender based in Iowa City that has dozens of branches in Iowa and four other states, said it was waiting for more answers before proceeding. The bank warned customers that submitting an incomplete or incorrect application could delay their loans, and said the best way forward was to wait until “regulations and forms are complete.”
Going into the program’s launch Friday, the banking industry has been trying to temper expectations about how many businesses will get the cash they need on Friday.
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