The highly-touted $50 million Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program to help struggling firms get through the coronavirus crisis has ended in less than a month with less than 3% of applying businesses receiving any money.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity approved 1,000 loans, spending the full $50 million it had, after receiving 38,000 applications from Florida small businesses seeking emergency state help, according to a news release from the Florida SBDC Network.
That network, the state’s principal provider of business assistance, announced Tuesday that the Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program is now closed.
The program’s chief executive officer urged disappointed small businesses to wait for the federal coronavirus relief programs, to which the state’s loans were supposed to bridge.
Just three weeks ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis had proudly hailed the first two loans coming out of the Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program, just six days after the DEO kicked off the program to help Florida’s small businesses survive the coronavirus economic collapse.
“For government work, it doesn’t get any quicker than that,” DeSantis told reporters.
The end came quickly, too.
“Is this a joke?” exclaimed Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando, who’s been trying to push DeSantis to cancel a tax rebate program to big corporations in order to provide more money for Florida’s small businesses.
“Due to the Congress’ swift action and expedient implementation of immediate and long-term federal disaster assistance for our state’s small businesses, the businesses that applied for and were unable to be funded through the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program have options,” Florida SBDC Network CEO Michael W. Myhre stated in a news release.
The $50 million was announced March 17 for small businesses that have two to 100 employees. It was to provide no-interest emergency loans up to $50,000 for a one-year term. If the program extended just 1,000 such loans, then all 1,000 would have been for the maximum amount.
“We share in Governor DeSantis’ and our partners at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s commitment to help our state’s small businesses survive and recover from COVID-19. To do that, we are now shifting our full attention to helping the unfunded applicants gain access and secure the vital federal disaster resources available to them,” he added.
The Florida SBDC Network referred small businesses to a primer it developed to help them with the federal relief.
Eskamani expressed exasperation that the SBDC Network is now saying that Florida small businesses have new options for relief through the federal program.
“There’s no timetable for federal relief. We have no idea when the federal relief will come, if at all,” she said. “This was supposed to be a bridge to that, interest free, first year, to bridge the gap between [now] and you receiving federal funds.”
On March 26 Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the coronavirus economic bailout bill known as the CARES Act. Among other measures, it provides $350 billion in funding for the new Paycheck Protection Program and another $10 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, both administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The legislation also provides immediate loan payment relief for current SBA loan program borrowers.
Eskamani said she’s been working with constituent small business owners in her Orlando-based district, and none has received any of the federal money that is to be made available from the Paycheck Protection Program or other programs authorized by the CARES Act.
She renewed her call, joined by other Democrats, for DeSantis to cancel $543 million in corporate income tax refunds set to go out soon to Florida’s largest corporations, and to redirect that money to help Florida’s small businesses.