"Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on March 8th that the City will provide relief for small businesses across the City seeing a reduction in revenue because of COVID-19," according to the city's Small Business Services department website.
But some entrepreneurs say they've encountered malfunctions with the enrollment websites for the aid programs, and that they haven't received any actual details of the programs from the city's Small Business Services.
The aid comes in two forms — payroll grants for very small businesses of less than five employees, and loans for companies with 100 or fewer employees.
The first program is the NYC Employee Retention Grant Program: "the city offers small businesses with fewer than five employees a grant to cover 40% of payroll costs for two months to help retain employees." The city said the grants will pay for two months of payroll, with a maximum amount of $27,000 per business. The grant program has $10 million available, though applications will not be accepted after 5 p.m. on Friday April 3rd, a spokesperson for SBS said. More than 1,200 businesses had received an average of $7,800 in grants through this program.
The second program is the NYC Small Business Continuity Loan Fund: "Businesses with fewer than 100 employees who have seen sales decreases of 25% or more will be eligible to apply for zero interest loans of up to $75,000 to help ensure business continuity." This program will continue to administer loans out of a pool of $20 million, the SBS said. Both programs are first-come-first served.
Much like other overloaded government websites lately, the SBS application website has been glitchy, adding to the frustrations.
"We've been working on the application, which you can keep on saving (online), because it wants you to put a lot of different elements in" like payroll and expense documentation, said Sas Simon, co-founder of Name Glo, a neon design studio on the Lower East Side.
The SBS loan application requires proof of loss of 25% of revenue because of the coronavirus, which she said can be difficult to show for a business like Name Glo, which is heavily driven by seasonal events and parties instead of steady income.
Simon said the SBS website crashed last week and she lost her application in process. She was able to successfully submit her application on March 26th, and has yet to get a response.
"I get it — they're probably inundated with a ton of things," Simon said of the city's overwhelmed online infrastructure. "They announced these programs, but there wasn't really information of what the cash was, how much, what was the timeline for and then, if people are paid bi-monthly, we need a different timeline for small businesses for cash runway."
Lena Imamura, the other Name Glo co-founder, said the application was built on Google Forms — a basic platform seemingly incapable of taking in much detail. "It's really just like, 'how many people do you employ? How much do you need?' And there's been...not much more detail in terms of what else they need from you."
Another small business owner said there weren't enough details about how the city would administer the loans.
"One of the questions about all of these loans, or grants or whatever, are they going to be loans with forgiveness? What are the terms like? And how do we actually get it? And when do we get it?" said Mary Cleaver, the founder and president of catering company Cleaver Co. based in Cobble Hill. "So, we're really in a holding pattern," she added.
Cleaver said she also wanted clarity on how quickly the loan would be approved — she said she worried over the decision to lay off her staff so they could apply for unemployment benefits or to wait for the SBS loan.
In a statement, SBS said it will start directing small businesses to federal resources to supplement the city offerings: "The Department of Small Business Services started the NYC Employee Retention Grant program as an immediate response to the economic setbacks small businesses were facing because of the coronavirus outbreak," said SBS spokesperson Samantha Keitt in an emailed statement Wednesday. "The City is also working to connect small businesses to the programs and loans offered by the United States Small Business Administration. SBS will be offering technical assistance to ensure that NYC small businesses are best prepared to fully access business assistance programs funded by the federal stimulus."
The federal government released more details this week of the $2.2 trillion relief plan, including plans to help small businesses who can qualify for up to $10 million in loans that are determined by eight weeks of payroll, and payment deferral for six months. Other details include working capital loans of up to $2 million to compensate lost revenue, and debt relief and short-term loan provisions.
While businesses large and small across the city have been affected — with estimates of as much as $6 billion in lost revenue — the Center for an Urban Future released a report Tuesday that "finds that the coronavirus crisis is likely to have a particularly devastating economic impact on the four boroughs outside Manhattan. The analysis shows that many of the industries suffering the most catastrophic early setbacks from efforts to contain the virus—including restaurants, retail, nail salons and other personal care services, childcare services, air transportation and even construction—are overrepresented in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island," the CUF said. "Nearly three-quarters (72.1 percent) of the 156,000 construction jobs citywide are based in the four boroughs outside of Manhattan."
But Manhattan jobs in hospitality and cultural sectors also suffered: "Manhattan also faces significant exposure to high-risk sectors, with jobs at the borough’s hotels, museums, and entertainment venues particularly vulnerable to losses right now. Of the 52,555 accommodations jobs citywide, 87.4 percent are in Manhattan," the CUF report said. "Three-quarters (75.2 percent) of the jobs in the city’s arts, entertainment and recreation sector are located in Manhattan."