White Knuckles
Neighborhood business owners, many of whom did the right thing by closing their doors to help stop the spread of the virus, have had to white-knuckle it for weeks. Some of the 1.7 million applicants approved for PPP loans describe bureaucratic runarounds. Those like Robyn Shultz sweat it out, waiting for the Treasury Department to calm the confusion and for Congress’s additional resources to arrive.

“It just seems like the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” Shultz said. “I don’t know where to turn for guidance.”

Small businesses are an anchor of the American economy. They provide almost half the country’s jobs, about 45% of national production and almost all the employment growth. So it was disappointing for Alex Steed, who co-owns a video-production company in Portland, Maine, when he couldn’t get through to the SBA help line after applying for a loan.

“I was told I was caller number 1,403, and it would be around a three-hour wait,” said Steed. “I stayed on the line for several hours before it went dead. I never ended up connecting with anyone.”

Loans Forgiven
PPP loans, backed by the government, are made by banks and other lenders. They max out at $10 million and will be forgiven if businesses spend at least 75% of the amount on retaining workers.

Melissa White has only one employee: herself. She has owned and operated Extensions of You, a hair-extension salon in San Antonio, Texas, for 18 years. Most of her clients are dealing with illnesses that have caused hair loss. She said no one has been able to give her clear answers on PPP.

“The government and people are touting how they have this program ready, but from my perspective there’s just a big disconnect,” White said. “Everybody’s confused.”

Maximum Loans
Many small businesses say they are angry that bigger companies have gotten PPP loans and they haven’t, especially at a time when borrowing options are narrowing. Restaurants and hospitality companies were able to divide their workforce into smaller units, as long as each location had fewer than 500 employees. A big donor to President Donald Trump with three hotel chains got a total of $59 million from the program.

Companies receiving the maximum loan amount of $10 million include Hallador Energy Co., a Terre Haute, Indiana-based coal company that had more than 900 employees at the end of last year; San Jose, California-based Quantum Corp., a tech firm with more than 800 workers in December; and Potbelly Corp., which operates 428 sandwich shops. A Potbelly spokesman said Congress allowed funding for restaurants because their workers are “vital to our economy.” Hallador and Quantum didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House’s parent, Ruth’s Hospitality Group Inc., received two loans, each for $10 million, because it has two holding companies. Ruth’s owns 83 restaurants and has 5,740 employees. It decided on Thursday to give back the money, a few days after Shake Shack Inc., the national burger chain, said it would return the $10 million it received from the SBA.