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Montana 2021 Legislature

Paycheck Protection Program Reopens As Small Business Owners’ Optimism Wanes

The Paycheck Protection Program reopened Friday with a more finessed approach, as small business optimism is waning.

District Director for the Montana Small Business Association District Office Brent Donnelly says when the program was first rolled out early in the pandemic, the SBA’s goal was to get loans out as quickly as possible. 

"The frenzy of that first round of funding had our banks so busy that they were just trying to serve as many folks as they can."

Now, he says, the SBA is able to use the lessons of that rollout to simplify the process and provide better guidance. 

One major difference in the program rebooted by Congress late last year is that the SBA gave community banks an earlier start date. They are able to apply as soon as January 15, while larger institutions will begin submitting applications January 17. Donnelly says that will help the SBA reach underserved borrowers.

He also says that farmers are now able to file with gross income instead of net income, which means they’ll be able to factor in what they’re spending on vital supplies. He says the program calls for larger loans for businesses like hotels and restaurants that took an especially hard hit during the pandemic. 

"I would be surprised if that didn't hit every single community here in Montana, and perhaps significantly."

The latest version of the program is open to businesses with 300 or fewer employees who have seen a 25% reduction in revenue in similar quarters before and after the onset of the pandemic. 

Donnelly says part of the importance of keeping local businesses going is that for some parts of Montana, 'local' can take on a different meaning.

"Local might mean a 100 mile radius. If they go away, you know, then local might mean 200 miles 300 miles."

These new loans couldn’t come sooner for small businesses. The National Federation of Independent Businesses released its Optimism Index this week, which showed a significant drop last month in small business owners who expect things to get better over the next six months. 

Ronda Wiggers is the Montana state director for NFIB. She’s also a lobbyist for a broadcasters association that represents MTPR and YPR. She says many businesses across the country and in Montana are concerned they don’t have the financial ability to keep going. 

"I would think that we did weather the storm a little better than others. But weathering the storm better doesn't necessarily mean that we're surviving, either."

She says Montana small businesses are looking to both state and federal government for alleviation of uncertainty. 

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.