Computer problems at SBA would delay small business loans

NEW YORK (AP) – Small business owners who had hoped for quick help from the government’s $ 349 billion emergency loan program were still waiting on Tuesday amid reports of computer problems to the Small Business Administration.

The SBA’s loan processing system shut down on Monday, making it impossible to approve loans and distribute funds, according to a business group for community bankers and the CEO of an online lending marketplace. And there was confusion over what documents lenders needed from clients to complete loan transactions, they said.

“We receive thousands of applications, but many of our members cannot access the SBA system or there are additional blocks,” said Paul Merski of the Independent Community Bankers of America.

Thousands of companies risk going bankrupt without an injection of cash. Even those who have laid off their staff face bills such as rent, mortgage payments, insurance, utilities and taxes. Many businesses that are still operating have lost revenue because their customers have become cautious and canceled orders or projects.

SBA spokeswoman Carol Wilkerson said Tuesday afternoon that there had been more than 275,000 applications received for loans valued at $ 75 billion since the program began. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicted last week that the loans could be canceled and the money transferred to business bank accounts the same day the requests were received.

Wilkerson did not respond to whether the agency’s computer system was functioning properly.

A large percentage of community banks – small banks that serve rural areas and small towns – were also unable to connect to the system. On Tuesday, two CEOs of small banks pleaded with President Trump on a conference call for approval of the small banks.

“We were excluded from the program,” said Noah Wilcox of Grand Rapids State Bank.

Loans of up to $ 10 million to business owners and the self-employed under what is known as the Paycheck Protection Program are intended to help businesses keep their workers or rehire those who do. were made redundant following the closure of businesses across the country. Nearly 10 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks of March, many of them abandoning restaurants and retailers.

The loans offer a discount if the proceeds are used for workers’ wages, and payments can be deferred for six months.

Homeowners also encountered problems approaching banks. Some banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Citibank, two of the largest in the country, were still telling customers on Tuesday that they weren’t ready to accept applications. Others, including Wells Fargo, turned down applicants because they had reached their loan limit.

Many banks refused applications unless the businesses were established customers – some required businesses to have deposit accounts and loans in order for the application to be accepted. Banks have been criticized for only making loans to existing customers, but bankers have said the documents required to verify the identity of new customers require time and resources that they currently do not have.

Mnuchin said on Tuesday the Trump administration would ask Congress for an additional $ 250 billion for the program. When the program was announced, Mnuchin said the Treasury would ask Congress for more if necessary.

The SBA tweeted on Monday that a company, a Wilmington, North Carolina-based coffee operator, had received his money. Amy Wright, owner of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, said on Tuesday that she was a long-time customer of Live Oak Bank, one of the nation’s largest small business lenders.

Brock Blake, CEO of Lendio, a lending marketplace, also said he heard bankers complain about the SBA’s computer system. He tried to test the client applications himself.

“I tried to apply in the morning and it was going around in circles for eight hours. I couldn’t submit hundreds of nominations, ”Blake said. He described his business as similar to the Expedia travel website, where visitors can find deals that suit them.

There was also confusion about the loan documents; the terms of the loans are different from standard SBA loans and therefore new documents would be required. Each loan requires a ‘note’ – a legally binding contract between the lender and the borrower – but the industry has not received advice on whether to use its own language in the notes or to use the language. of the government. A legal error could make a loan ineligible for the program.

Many homeowners were also waiting to see if they would get economic disaster loans, separate from payday loans. These loans can take weeks to process, but the government had promised companies could get grants of $ 10,000 within days of applying.

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