Cash is running out for small businesses around the country that have been forced to close or have seen a big slowdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. And many won’t last long without help.
Most small businesses typically have cash reserves of less than a month to buffer them against those days when they have less coming in than they have to pay out.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has effectively shut down large portions of local economies over the past several weeks, that month-long window (which is much shorter in some industries) is fast closing for many small businesses across the country.
That’s why the small business community and those that lend to them are desperate for a fast capital injection from the federal government to salvage things quickly.
“The demand for capital is unprecedented. Small businesses need cash to stay afloat to get to the other side. We’re past the precipice,” said Jared Hecht, CEO of Fundera, an online broker for small business loans. “Every day matters. Every minute another small business closes.”
And their lending options have narrowed considerably because lenders have no idea how to assess risk in this environment, he added.
Lawmakers are still trying to finalize a stimulus package, which in the latest Senate Republican bill includes about $350 billion in Small Business Administration-approved loans that may be forgiven if certain conditions are met.
Ideally, Hecht said, that number should be tripled and given to small businesses without any expectation that it will be paid back. But it’s not a perfect world.
Small business groups, however, are advocating for a sizable amount of money to be paid out in grants on top of new loans.
“[The loan provisions] are nice. They’re better than nothing. But businesses are scared to death of getting more in debt,” said John Arensmeyer, CEO of the Small Business Majority, which recommends at least $250 billion in grants on top of any loan provisions.
“A large majority are looking for a forgivable loan or a grant. If you have to take out a new line of credit and pay it back at 3.75% [which is the interest rate for an SBA disaster assistance loan] you won’t see wide interest,” said Kevin Kuhlman, senior director of federal government relations at the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
“Members are telling us they need immediate financial assistance that helps with liquidity and cash flow to survive the uncertain near future,” said Kuhlman. “The situation gets more dire every day.”
Small business owners also want broad latitude in how the money – whether through loans or grants – may be spent, Arensmeyer said. While the push will be for them to use it to keep employees on payroll, that won’t always be realistic for businesses that already were forced to shut down by their state, he said. They still have bills to pay, such as rent, utilities and other debt service.
Arensmeyer’s group is also calling on lawmakers to, among other things, extend special unemployment insurance to self-employed workers, and prevent small businesses from having to pay higher unemployment insurance premiums next year as a result of the pandemic.