HELENA — While more than 21,000 Montana small businesses have secured federally backed loans to weather the COVID-19 economic storm, some federal money – and, state programs – are still available for possible assistance.
A spokesman for Montana banks on Thursday said any small business in need of financial help should contact their local banker about what government help is available.
“Rather than stay home and fret and stew and wonder how you’re going to stand your business up again, work closely with your banker, because they can help in a lot of different ways,” said Cary Hebreberg, president of the Montana Bankers Association.
Montana banks already have approved more than $1.7 billion in federally backed loans to small businesses, as part of the $700 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) approved by Congress.
The money is part of a $2.5 trillion federal stimulus package to help individuals and businesses hurt by economic shutdowns in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PPP loans for small businesses and nonprofits are meant to help them temporarily cover expenses and pay employees during the pandemic. Under certain circumstances, the loans can be forgiven and essentially be converted to grants.
While most of the money has been paid out, some funds still remain.
The program initially was designed to help businesses during an eight-week period. Yet Hegreberg said the U.S. Small Business Administration continues to modify the rules, to adapt to conditions on the ground.
“It’s still kind of a work in progress, which is another reason why we’re encouraging people to work closely with their banker,” he told MTN News. “Let them know where you’re at, find out what the options are. The rules may have changed from the time that you got approved for the loan.”
For example, businesses who received loans but haven’t used the money initially had until Thursday to return the money without penalty. Now, that deadline has been moved to next Monday.
Hegreberg said some state programs also are available to help struggling businesses, and that banks can inform customers about the eligibility for that money.
Yet he also said while government assistance is still accessible, what businesses need most is to be able to fully re-open and get their customers back.
“Support your local businesses, because that’s what’s going to keep them in business,” Hegreberg said. “The government cannot just continue to underwrite operations for thousands of businesses around the country.”