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PPP: Who’s screwing small businesses most – SBA, politicians, or banks?

(BUSINESS NEWS) With another round of PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) being finalized, entrepreneurs wonder if they’ll get screwed yet again (they will).

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If you’re a small business owner, freelancer, solopreneur, or entrepreneur who has built a company that isn’t publicly traded, there is a chance you applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) relief, a $349 billion program designed to benefit businesses that can’t obtain credit elsewhere or who are underbanked.

And you’re meekly asking around to see if you’re the only one who got the dreaded “we ran out of money” email from your local bank after you jumped through several hoops to apply into a black hole with no responses or returned phone calls.

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act unanimously passed in the Senate on March 25, and signed by President Trump on March 27. The Act includes the PPP which gave Americans hope in the form of 2-year loans of up to $10 million for companies with under 500 employees, forgivable if applied to payroll, mortgage interest, rent, and/or utilities.

Meanwhile, over 40,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. It’s hard to be outraged under these conditions, but people are angry. Sure, some are violating stay-at-home orders to protest, but I don’t believe it’s simply because the economy is frozen, but because we were all given a false sense of hope. The PPP was thrown into choppy waters as a life preserver, but it was never intended for actual small businesses. The growing anger is from entrepreneurs and freelancers embarrassed to ask others if they’re the only ones to get rejected.

The truth is that most were rejected. And now carry that pit of fear in their stomachs, which is blossoming into anger. Sure, President Trump said that companies will have to “return” funds if they were “inappropriate,” given how many major institutions got funds, but that doesn’t help anyone today.

Politicians are nearing a deal on the second round of PPP, but small businesses are confiding in each other that they don’t believe they’ll receive help this time, either. With roughly 700K pending applications, and an estimated $310 billion which could become available in the second round of PPP, that rounds out to $442K per applicant, but will the cap remain in the millions, edging out smaller companies? Again?

There is a growing sense of dread and jadedness in this community that is becoming contagious as we compare notes (all of which look suspiciously similar).

If your local politician doesn’t understand how the entrepreneur community views them right now, show them this quick (but poor quality) clip from The Campaign:

You may think the growing outrage is because there are so many open mouths right now expecting the government to swoop in and feed them, but that’s not it. The rage is because once again, the little guy got screwed.

Under the PPP, Harvard University received $9 million, and responded to the public outrage by promising to apply funds to financial assistance to students. That’s neat, but what does that have to do with paycheck protection!? It’s literally in the name of the damn program. They have the largest endowment in the nation, sitting at a sweet $49.5 billion, so you can see how a copywriter in Dallas whose landlord is waiting to be able to file eviction is frustrated.

Under the PPP, according to recent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, 71 publicly traded companies received emergency funding. SEVENTY. ONE. You can see how a 10-person graphic design firm in Nashville is frustrated.

Under the PPP, Ruth Chris Steak House (who has a $250 million valuation and 150 locations) received $20 million. They said in a statement that they applied so they can be “well positioned to emerge from this situation a strong and viable entity.” Are you effing kidding!? Please tell that to the day care operator in Kansas City who already laid everyone off and was told by politicians that the PPP was their lifeline. Strong and viable? Small businesses just want to stay open.

Under the PPP, Potbelly sandwich shops received $10 million despite having over 400 locations and an $89 million valuation. SEC filings also indicate that Kura Sushi USA received $6 million, Fiesta Restaurant Group (operating Taco Cabana and Pollo Tropical) snagged $10 million, and J. Alexander’s Holdings received $15 million for their 47 restaurants in 16 states.

Notice a trend here?

Shake Shack made a public splash by giving back the $10 million they received under the PPP, noting they had access to other funding, given that they have a $16 billion valuation, 7,600+ employees, 200 of whom were already laid off, and roughly 800 furloughed. The company explained that they applied because the CARES Act allowed any restaurant with under 500 employees per location to qualify.

Did you catch that? ALL RESTAURANTS WITH UNDER 500 EMPLOYEES PER LOCATION QUALIFIED. How many single restaurant locations do you know of that employs over 500 people?

Shake Shack accidentally explained why the first round of PPP failed. It was never designed for small businesses, and especially not for freelancers or gig workers as politicians had so optimistically promised.

False hope.

Meanwhile, you have JPMorgan Chase bragging that they gave out more PPP funding than any other bank. Credit unions and small banks aren’t processing the same volume, and it is unclear as to whether the SBA is favoring large banks, large accounts at large banks, or if the little guys just took too long to figure out how to get help for their customers. But what is clear is that banks have gotten paid, as $6 billion was given to banks processing PPP funding. Did the SBA favor large companies, or did banks?

Either way, banks got paid billions. Smaller account holders did not.

Also frustrating, the Small Business Administration (SBA) refusing to be transparent about who the PPP recipients are, whereas SBA loans are typically public information (company names, executives, addresses, etc.) and they say only nominal amounts have funneled down to hospitality, in clear conflict with reality. Further, few have received aide under the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (and grew frustrated at conflicting information ranging from large amounts available, to $10K grants, to maybe only $1K per employee).

It remains unclear who is screwing the little guy here – politicians, the SBA, banks, or all three simultaneously.

Small business owners Duncan and Rita MacDonald-Korth started a petition calling on the second round of PPP funding to be limited to companies with under 250 employees, and that half of all funding be reserved for those with under 50 employees. They call the first PPP round “flawed from top to bottom,” having done “very little to help genuine small businesses and instead has benefited large companies who have used subsidiary entities to benefit disproportionately and unfairly.”

Companies are banding together to sue Wells Fargo, Chase, and U.S. Bank claiming the banks “front-loaded applications for larger loans and focused on loans for $150,000 and under at the tail end of the program before it lapsed.”

Sure, you have companies like software company 75F in Minnnesota who have gained attention for publicly rejecting the help they applied for, but given the $18 million they raised in venture capital funding last year, solopreneurs are quietly reading that headline from home, wondering if they’ll ever be in line for help if companies like that qualified for PPP.

On Twitter, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), chairman of the committee overseeing small businesses, has softened over time, now saying that the PPP wasn’t designed to reach multiple subsidiaries of a national brand, and that “should be corrected.”

Should be corrected? You’re damn right.

There is growing fear which breeds anger, and actual small businesses are getting screwed, thinking they’re alone in their failure.

With the PPP’s lack of transparency and misallocation of funds to massive businesses, it is no wonder people are enraged. People are realizing they’re not the only one feeling betrayed by this false sense of hope, and we’re seeing entrepreneurs begin to compare notes. Trouble is brewing.

Business News

Walmart delays the launch of its Amazon Prime competing service

(BUSINESS NEWS) Walmart+ is being delayed once again, but the service has yet to be cancelled. Will it be another flop?

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Walmart+, the supposed Amazon Prime alternative of the century, has been delayed from launching until further notice. This marks the second delay of the year.

Vox reports that the Amazon Prime competitor was initially supposed to launch in the first quarter of 2020, but Walmart pushed the release back to July due to Coronavirus concerns. Now, Walmart+ doesn’t have a definitive launch date–indecision that’s easy to chalk up to both the ongoing pandemic and trepidation regarding profitability in an Amazon-dominated world.

Amazon Prime, a service which runs customers $119 per year, has well over 100 million members in the United States; that works out to at least one member in a little over 80 percent of households here. Between its ubiquitous nature and the fact that Amazon Prime members are more inclined to use Amazon frequently than non-Prime members, it isn’t hard to see why a premium Walmart subscription seems a little redundant.

But Walmart doesn’t see it that way. “Walmart executives have hoped the program would strike a balance of being valuable enough that customers will pay for it, while boasting different enough perks from Amazon Prime so that there aren’t perk-by-perk comparisons,” Vox posits. At $98 per year, Walmart+ would include things like same-day delivery, gas discounts, line-skipping, a dedicated credit card, and potentially even a video streaming service.

While there are some clear parallels between Amazon Prime and Walmart+, one can attribute those to convenience rather than imitation. People seem to enjoy having extra streaming options as a perk of Prime, so for Walmart+ to include something similar wouldn’t exactly be inappropriate.

The largest obstacle to Walmart+’s success in a post-Coronavirus world probably won’t have much to do with brand loyalty, but the fact remains that Amazon’s value is so far above and beyond Walmart’s that people who regularly use Amazon Prime aren’t likely to make the switch–and, as mentioned previously, the sheer number of people who have a Prime membership is high enough to be concerning to Walmart executives.

However, for customers who frequently shop at Walmart or live in relatively rural areas, Walmart+ doesn’t seem like a bad gig. It isn’t Amazon Prime, to be sure–but that’s the point.

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Business News

What COVID-19 measures do workplaces have to take to reopen?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Employers can’t usually do medical screenings – but it’s a little different during a pandemic.

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Employers bringing personnel back to work are faced with the challenge of protecting their workforce from COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have issued guidelines on how to do so safely and legally.

Employee health and examinations are usually a matter of personal privacy by design through the American’s with Disabilities Act. However, after the World Health Organization declaration of the coronavirus as a pandemic in March, the U.S. EEOC revised its guidance to allow employers to screen for possible infections in order to protect employees.

Employers are now allowed to conduct temperature screenings and check for symptoms of the coronavirus. They can also exclude from the workplace those they suspect of having symptoms. The recommendations from the CDC also include mandatory masks, distant desks, and closing common areas. As the pandemic and US response evolves, it is important for employers to continue to monitor any changes in guidance from these agencies.

Employers are encouraged to have consistent thresholds for symptoms and temperature requirements and communicate those with transparency. Though guidance suggests that COVID-19 screenings at work are allowed by law, employers should be mindful of the way they are conducted and the impact it may have on employer-employee relations.

Stanford Health Care is taking a bold approach by performing COVID-19 testing on each of its 14,000 employees that have any patient contact. They implemented temperature scanning stations at each entrance, operated by nurses and clinicians. The President and CEO of Sanford Health Care said, “For our patients to trust the clinical procedures and trials, it was important for them to know that we were safe.”

Technology is adapting to meet the needs of employers and identify symptoms of COVID-19. Contactless thermometers that can check the temperature of up to 1,500 people per hour using thermal imaging technology are now on the market; they show an error margin of less than one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit. COVID-19 screening is being integrated into some company time-clocks used by employees at the start and end of each shift. The clocks are being equipped with a way to record employee temperatures and answers to a health questionnaire. Apple and Google even collaborated to bring contact tracing to smart phones which could help contain potential outbreaks.

Fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing are the three most common symptoms of COVID-19. Transmission is still possible from a person who is asymptomatic, but taking the precautions to identify these symptoms can help minimize workplace spread. This guidance may change in the future as the pandemic evolves, but for now, temperature checks are a part of back to work for many.

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Business News

Technology that may help you put the “human” back in Human Resources

(BUSINESS NEWS) Complicated application processes and disorganized on-boarding practices often dissuade the best candidates and cause new hires to leave. Sora promises to help with this.

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Even in a booming economy, finding the right applicant for a role can be a drawn-out, frustrating experience for both the candidate and the hiring manager. Candidates submitting their resume to an automated HR system, designed to “seamlessly” integrate candidates into their HRIS accounts, face the interminable waiting game for feedback on whether they’re going to be contacted at all.

Ironically, this lack of feedback on where a candidate stands (or even if the resume was received at all) and a propensity for organizations to list roles as “Open Until Filled”, overwhelms the hiring manager under a mountain of resumes, most of which will not be reviewed unless there is a keyword match for the role. And if they do somehow manage to see the resume, studies indicate that in less than 10 seconds, they’ll have moved on to the next one.

The problems don’t end there, however. Once the candidate and hiring manager have found one another, and the HR team has completed the hire, the dreaded phase of onboarding begins. During the first few days of a new job, a lack of effective onboarding procedures—ranging from simple tasks like arranging for technology or introductions to a workplace mentor—can be the cause of a significant amount of employee turnover. Forbes notes that 17% of all newly hired employees leave their job during the first 90 days, and 20% of all staff turnover happens within the first 45 days.

The reason, according to Laura Del Beccaro, Founder of startup Sora, is that overworked HR teams simply don’t have the bandwidth to follow up with all of those who are supposed to interact with the new employee to ensure a seamless transition experience. Focusing on building a template-based system that can be integrated within the frameworks of multiple HRIS systems, Sora’s focus is to set up adaptable workflow processes that don’t require the end-user to code, and can be adjusted to meet the needs of one or many employee roles.

In a workplace that is becoming increasingly virtual, out of practicality or necessity, having the ability to put the “human” back in Human Resources is a focus that can’t be ignored. From the perspective of establishing and expanding your team, it’s important to ensure that potential employees have an application experience that respects their time and talent and feedback is provided along the way, even when they might not be a fit for the role.

Take for example the organization who asked for an upload of a resume, then required the candidate to re-type everything into their HRIS, asked for three survey responses, an open-ended writing task, a virtual face-to-face interview, *and* three letters of reference—all for an entry-level role. If you were actually selected for an in-person interview, the candidate was then presented with another task that could take up to two hours of prep time to do—again, all for an entry level role.

Is that wrong? Is it right? The importance of selecting the right staff for your team can’t be overstated. But there should be a line between taking necessary precautions to ensure the best fit for your role and understanding that many of the best candidates you might find simply don’t want to participate in such a grueling process and just decide to move on. There’s a caveat that says that companies will never treat an employee better than in the interview process and in the first few weeks on the job—and that’s where Sora’s work comes in, to make certain that an employee is fully supported from day one.

Bringing on the best to leave them without necessary support and equipment, wondering at the dysfunction that they find, and shuffled from department to department once they get there creates the reality and the perception that they just don’t matter—which causes that churn and disconnect. Having your employees know that they matter and that they’ll be respected from day one is a basic right—or it should be.

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