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Op-ed: Forgivable loans a lifeline for West Virginia’s small businesses

The pandemic has hit West Virginia small businesses hard, hammering restaurants and coffee shops like The Black Dog Coffee Company in Shenandoah Junction. Concerned about continuing operations in the changing economic landscape, owners Jennifer and Brian Bircher received a financial lifeline from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“The Payroll Protection Program, covering our payroll costs, has allowed us to use the revenue from our daily sales to pay local vendors who are also struggling during all of this,” Jennifer Bircher said.

This financial cushion also gave the Birchers time to install a walk-up window and start offering online ordering and payment.

“Because of PPP and pivoting our business model we were able to stay open and pay our employees who are our most valuable asset,” she said.

The PPP was the result of a coordinated, bipartisan effort from Congress and this Administration to respond swiftly to distressed small businesses in West Virginia and across the country. And it has emerged as one of the most consequential federal disaster response efforts in history-more than 4.9 million small businesses have received forgivable loans, totaling more than half a trillion dollars in relief.

In West Virginia, the PPP injected nearly $1.8 billion into more than 17,000 small business bank accounts like The Black Dog Coffee Co.

Importantly, the Trump Administration and Congress have worked to ensure these forgivable loans were available to businesses most in need, especially those owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals that have been disproportionately hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, including rural areas in West Virginia.

With a focus on speed and an eye toward equity, the SBA expanded the number of financial institutions authorized to make the loans from 1,800 to 5,500 lenders, including not only community banks and hundreds of credit unions, but also lenders specializing in connecting socially and economically disadvantaged businesses with capital.

More than 300 Community Development Financial Institutions, 122 Minority Depository Institutions, 53 farm credit institutions, and non-bank lenders like fintechs were mobilized through this unprecedented public-private partnership.

That extraordinary effort paid off. Nearly 70 percent of PPP loans have gone to firms with fewer than 10 employees, an important allocation since the average minority-owned small business has eight employees.

Tens of millions of jobs have been saved by the program-many of which would have otherwise been lost. PPP is accomplishing its mission to quickly stabilize our nation’s small businesses by helping keep their doors open and their employees on payroll.

Following two rounds of emergency relief funding distributed through the PPP, it’s clear that the program is succeeding in its vital role to help our economy recover; just last month, we saw the largest increase in employment ever measured in a single month.

Small business is big business in West Virginia, a state that boasts 113,779 small businesses that employ nearly half of the state’s private workforce.

The SBA’s work to assist small business recovery is not done. The sweeping coronavirus relief package Congress passed and President Trump signed, the CARES Act, further provided emergency relief for small businesses by authorizing the SBA to pay six months of principal, interest, and any associated fees that current, as well as new borrowers, owe on SBA’s most popular loans, 7(a), 504 and Microloans.

West Virginia small businesses contributed significantly to the thriving economy the United States was experiencing just months ago-and it will be the same resilient entrepreneurs who will lead the way in helping our nation safely reopen and restore its economic growth.

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Jovita Carranza is the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Shelley Moore Capito is a U.S. Senator from West Virginia.

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