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Federal aid may come too late to save 1 million Florida small business jobs

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By John Haughey | The Center Square

    The $484 billion relief package approved by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and heading to the U.S. House includes another $310 billion for Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses.

It may come too late for many, however, warns National Federation of Independent Businesses Florida Leadership Council Chairman Walter Carpenter.

Addressing the Re-Open Florida Task Force’s 35-member Working Group on Tourism, Construction, Real Estate, Recreation, Retail and Transportation, Carpenter said Tuesday as many as 1 million small business jobs statewide could evaporate before federal and state assistance materializes.

Of the state’s 400,000 small businesses, which employ 3 million people, “15 percent cannot last more than one month without some type of additional funding source. And 35 percent can hang on for just one to two months.”

The Paycheck Protection Program included in the federal $2.2 trillion CARES Act reached about only 20 percent of Florida’s small businesses that applied for funding, with the lion’s share going to large corporations, he said.

More than 75 percent of businesses NFIB surveyed applied, but only about one-in-five received any money.

“I don’t think, in reality, the PPP loans are going to be what is going to help small business survive,” he said.

The state’s efforts to assist independently owned businesses with its own $50 million Small Business Bridge Loan program also has proved to be inadequate. It launched March 17 and ran out of money last week.

According to the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), only 945, or 3 percent, of 38,000 applications for the one-year, no-interest $50,000 emergency loans were approved, with about 815 separate business owners receiving loans and 60 securing multiple loans, raising eyebrows about fairness.

Democrats and business organizations want to know how that happened.

“The wealth is not shared, in my opinion, the way it could have been in order to help more than 1,000 businesses across the state,” Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said in a Tuesday statement. “One thousand businesses across the state is a drop in the bucket. We could have increased the spread. That’s what brings our economy back.”

Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, called on Gov. Ron DeSantis in a Monday letter to allocate more money because “it is clear that the $50 million was not nearly enough” and impose tighter guidelines “so it may be accessed by more small business owners desperately in need of assistance.”

“Our state government must help more than the 2.6 percent of small businesses that applied,” Cruz wrote. “I respectfully request you use executive emergency powers to increase the funding.”

A Florida Politics review found about 60 business owners received multiple loans.

Among them: Former Buffalo Bills linebacker Angelo Crowell received 10 loans, amounting to $500,000 for his Jersey Mike’s sub shops and other businesses in Tampa; John Burr received nine loans, totaling $410,000 for his Brevard County restaurants; and John Rivers got four loans, equaling $400,000 for his central Florida restaurants.

Cruz requested the program cap loans at $50,000 “per entity,” which was its original intent, and that it be “need-based.”

“It is unfathomable that numerous individuals have been able to claim in excess of $400,000 for their various businesses while an overwhelming majority of applicants receive $0,” she wrote.

Cruz said lawmakers are prepared to convene a special session if DeSantis does not take executive action.

“Florida’s small businesses are in grave need. During this difficult and uncertain time, we must act swiftly, deliberately and collaboratively to deliver immediate relief,” she wrote.

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