Today is the first day that small businesses that have been economically devastated by the coronavirus pandemic can apply for the emergency aid Congress included in its $2.2 trillion stimulus bill last week.

And if the interest shown during a telephone town hall meeting hosted Thursday by Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., is any indication, there will be a crush of filings for the billions of dollars aimed at helping small businesses and their workers through the downturn. At one point, more than 3,000 people were listening in on the meeting.

“There is a sense of urgency,” said Mike Marsh, a lender relations specialist in the Nebraska Division of the U.S. Small Business Administration. “There are people whose businesses and jobs hang by a thread here.”

He and other panelists encouraged small-business owners, nonprofits and independent contractors to contact their lenders and apply under the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program.

Businesses can borrow up to 2½ times their average monthly payroll and can use the money to keep their employees on the payroll or pay other bills. If they keep their employees on through June 30, the money does not have to be paid back.

“This is keeping people on the payroll so the workers are ready when it’s time to go back to work,” said Ron Eidshaug of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The process is intended to be quick and easy. The application is four pages, only two of which require information from the borrower. And SBA officials in Washington have said the loans can be approved the same day.Businesses that have already laid off workers also have the opportunity to bring them back and have the loan fully forgiven.

While lenders will take the applications, process the loans and disburse the funds, there are also other resources available.

Nonprofits with questions can contact the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands, said Hannah Young, the organization’s public policy manager.

And Catherine Lang, director of the Nebraska Business Development Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said her organization stands ready to help small businesses decide which aid programs are best for them and their idled workers.

In some cases, the Paycheck Protection Program may be the best option, and in other cases, it might be the state’s unemployment program, which was enhanced by the stimulus bill to include an extra $600 a week on top of regular unemployment checks. Regular SBA disaster loans are also available.

“What Congress recognized is we can’t let small businesses go in this crisis,” Eidshaug said. “We need to do everything we can to help small businesses keep going.”

Reporter - Metro News

Henry is a general assignment reporter, but his specialty is deep dives into state issues and public policy. He's also into the numbers behind a story, yet to meet a spreadsheet he didn't like. Follow him on Twitter @HenryCordes. Phone: 402-444-1130.

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