Sunday, February 18, 2018
Business

Federal shutdown cripples small business loan program

The federal shutdown has left Chris Kneer and a couple dozen of his clients in limbo.

Kneer, who runs SBA lending for USAmeriBank out of its Ybor City location, has been stymied by the virtual closing of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Typically, after USAmeriBank internally approves a client for an SBA loan, it takes less than two weeks for the application to be approved by the SBA. As of Wednesday, no pending applications were moving through the federal system and no new ones could be entered.

"We've got 10 in the queue (at the SBA) and another 15 customers that are in the applications stage and could very well be moved into the queue soon," Kneer said. "Nothing's happening."

Some of his clients are on tight deadlines to get a loan approved to buy property or equipment; some need working capital. If the shutdown persists, some customers may have to convince a seller to extend a contract date or be forced to put more money into escrow.

"It puts them in a tough situation," he said. "This is a real-life situation. As the economy is slowly starting to improve, this is not what we need for sure."

According to information on SBA's website, the agency's disaster operations and disaster recovery loan program for small businesses will remain open during the government shutdown.

But not much else.

No one is processing popular programs like the flagship SBA 7(a) loans and the 504 development loans used to buy real estate, machinery and equipment.

The SBA has been a critical lifeline for many small and emerging businesses trying to recover from the Great Recession. Over the past four years, the agency has provided guarantees for loans of as much as $106 billion to more than 193,000 small businesses.

The Small Business Development Center at USF's Tampa campus — which receives federal funding but is not staffed by federal employees — remained open for business Wednesday.

Being open, however, didn't mean its services weren't curtailed, director Eileen Rodriguez said. Staffers could counsel small businesses and start loan applications internally, but could not funnel any loans to the SBA.

Rodriguez said one client was recently approved for an $850,000 SBA loan by his bank, "but … they can't even submit it" to the SBA.

When politicians first talked about a shutdown, Kneer said he thought it would last at most a couple of days.

"It looks like it could stretch out a bit longer. If this stretches for weeks, that pile (of pending loans) will grow and grow," he said.

"We don't want customers to panic, but we have to prepare them for what could happen."

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