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Will The New Round Of Stimulus And PPP Loans Save SMBs?

After months of waiting and another week of speculation that President Donald Trump might veto the bill, the new $900 billion round of stimulus has been approved by Congress and signed into law by the president.

Much like the earlier CARES Act, the latest stimulus will send checks to individual citizens ($600), expand unemployment benefits and provide funds for small businesses via a mildly updated form the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). That will put forgivable loans into the hands of small business owners to keep their doors open and their employees on staff.

But in some regards, the latest round goes further in putting funds into the hands of SMBs that were hit particularly hard by the pandemic itself.

For example, the new package creates a $15 billion grant program for live venues, theaters and museum operators that have lost at least 25 percent of their revenues over the pandemic’s course. And these grants can be particularly large — up to $10 million per eligible business.

A second grant worth half the amount of the first might also be available for venue operators. Grant funds can be used toward specified expenses such as payroll costs, rent, utilities and personal protective equipment for workers.

The grants come after several months of lobbying for the Save Our Stages Act, a bipartisan plan to buoy small arts and entertainment venues that have taken a drubbing amid the pandemic’s health restrictions.

“These are some of the businesses and stages that have been most hurt, that have literally pretty much just shut down,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) recently told CNBC.

However, the act limits who can get aid in terms of size. It bars some firms that are publicly traded, multinational, operating in more than 10 states that have more than 500 full-time employees or that have received at least 10% of revenue from government sources.

If two or more of the things are true, a firm is ineligible for the grants. That keeps large cinema chains such as AMC, Cinemark and Cineworld-owned Regal from receiving aid.

Additionally, the first two weeks of grant disbursements will go to firm that have faced 90 percent or more revenue losses during 2020. A second two-week round will only be open to firms that have taken a 70 percent or more hit to revenue. After that, any other eligible businesses can receive funds.

Small Restaurateurs Aren’t Satisfied

But while such aid has won praise in some corners, the overall stimulus package has raised ire in others. For instance, small restaurant owners who’ve been decimated by the pandemic received no special or distinct funds as a part of the $900 billion approved.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition, a group of chefs and small restaurateurs, said recently that the legislation falls “woefully short” and will leave 11 million eateries at risk of shutting down.

“Congress understands that dining restrictions, a surging pandemic and winter weather are a perfect storm for a restaurant employment crisis that is disproportionately impacting single mothers, people of color, immigrants, the formerly incarcerated and young people,” the IRC said in a recent statement. “When we’ve been asked by the government to change the way we do business, our elected officials need to help us stay in business.”

“It’s clear Congress wants to help us and we gave them a plan to do that,” the IRC said. “This legislation isn’t it.”

Many SMBs Worry About Surviving New Lockdowns

According to PYMNTS’ latest SMB survey data, fresh COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions are putting restaurants and SMBs generally are under tremendous pressure just to hang on.

On the whole, PYMNTS found that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that have weathered the pandemic so far are feeling more optimistic about their future than they were back in the early days of COVID. PYMNTS found that 54 percent of SMBs now feel that they are “very” or “extremely” likely to survive the pandemic, whereas only 48 percent said the same in June.

However, the reality of a second COVID-19 wave and the resulting new restrictions is washing away a lot of that confidence, as 8.5 percent fewer Main Street SMBs said they’d be hopeful of surviving should new lockdowns occur.

Whether and how much the PPP will ameliorate that worry for restauranteurs remains to be seen. But early on, they remain unhappy that unlike entertainment-venue owners, it’s all they’re going to get to ride out the storm.

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