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Here’s what you need to know to get a federal disaster relief business loan

A sign at a D.C. Potbelly Sandwich Shop alerts customers of changes because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)
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The U.S. Small Business Administration, a 67-year-old federal agency known primarily for the mundane work of underwriting bank loans, is suddenly being called upon to help thousands of small businesses weather the worst economic crisis in at least a decade.

The agency is scrambling to cope with a massive influx of interest in its disaster assistance loans as the crisis delivers a gut punch to bars, restaurants and retailers across the United States. It is working to set up call centers to handle its current load of 20,000 to 30,000 calls per day, a number the agency believes will jump to 60,000. A pending $2.2 trillion aid package is expected to significantly broaden its mandate, putting it in charge of a new $350 billion loan program for businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

“This is not your typical disaster scenario where a flood or hurricane impacts a fixed geographical area,” SBA regional communications director Chris Hatch said in an email. “Due to the widespread impact of the coronavirus, our emergency loans and business counseling are in high demand.”

Here are the details on how small business owners can access the SBA’s resources. This article will continue to be updated as new information becomes available.

Q: Where can I apply for an SBA disaster loan?

There are three ways to apply for an SBA disaster assistance loan. The SBA operates an online portal where you can upload business documents and apply for a loan. The SBA has implemented a streamlined application process meant to deal with an unprecedented backlog of emergency loan requests. The web portal has changed on several occasions.

You can also fill out the PDF documents linked on the agency’s website and mail them to SBA’s processing and disbursement center at 14925 Kingsport Rd., Fort Worth, Tex., 76155-2243. The agency’s forms say applicants can also submit forms in person at an SBA disaster center but it is unclear which locations are open.

Q: Who qualifies for these small business loans?

Businesses in any U.S. state with fewer than 500 employees who are unable to pay their bills because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Q: I submitted an application and have not received any loan or grant. What’s going on?

The Small Business Administration is overwhelmed with loan requests. The agency received more than 3 million business applications over a 3-day period recently, an SBA official said Monday April 6. It is exploring partnerships with unnamed third-party organizations to clear out its backlog and speed checks to small business owners.

Several weeks after the agency started receiving coronavirus disaster loan applications, only about one in twenty applications had been approved or rejected. A survey conducted Monday April 6 by the National Federation of Independent Businesses concluded that 70 percent of U.S. small businesses had applied for a disaster loan. Among them, only 4 percent had seen their loan applications approved, 1 percent had been declined, and the vast majority had received no response of any sort from the SBA. None of the businesses surveyed Monday by NFIB had received a cash advance, the organization reported.

As of Friday the Post was yet to hear from a single business that received a cash advance under the streamlined application for the Economic Injury Disaster Assistance loans program. Small Business Administration public affairs staff have told the Post repeatedly in recent weeks that they do not have any data showing how much cash has been distributed to businesses.

Q: How long does it usually take?

After you submit an application the SBA will review your credit before conducting its own inspection to verify your losses. This includes reviewing any insurance recoveries you may have. The agency can issue you a loan while recoveries are pending.

The SBA says its goal is to arrive at a decision on any disaster loans within two to three weeks. If it determines you are eligible, it will send you a loan closing document for your signature.

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Q: How much can I get through an SBA disaster loan?

Small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives or private nonprofit organizations can borrow up to $2 million for “economic injury,” meaning the organization cannot pay its ordinary and necessary operating expenses because of the coronavirus pandemic. President Trump has declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency.

Under the Cares Act, businesses applying for a coronavirus Economic Injury Disaster Loan can receive a cash grant of up to $10,000, depending on how many people the businesses employed.

Q: What will the interest rate be?

Interest rates on these loans are 3.75 percent for small businesses and 2.75 percent for nonprofits.

Q: What information will I be asked to provide?

Loan applicants are asked to provide a transcript of your most recent tax return and a tax information authorization form, a detailed accounting of your personal assets, sources of income and unpaid taxes. Those additional forms and instructions are posted here on the agency’s website. You will also have to include names and personally identifiable information for all proprietors, partners or stockholders who own at least 20 percent of the business.

Nonprofit organizations can substitute tax returns for the organization’s IRS tax-exempt certification along with complete copies of the organization’s statement of activities.

There are criminal penalties for submitting false information.

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Q: What if I haven’t filed my taxes yet?

In lieu of a tax return, the SBA asks for a year-end profit-and-loss statement and balance sheet for that tax year.

Q: What if I can’t get into the website? I heard there are problems with it.

There have been periodic outages on some parts of the SBA’s website as the agency reports “unprecedented” volume on its disaster loan site. The spike in Web traffic has overwhelmed some of the agency’s systems and caused some applicants to see error messages.

The agency said it is working on improvements to its site that will allow it to handle the extra traffic. “Over the last day, improvements were made to the website and it is now back up and running,” Hatch, the agency spokesman, said Thursday afternoon, after some users complained of outages.

“We continue to work with our federal and private sector partners to improve capacity and we appreciate the patience of our small business community as we move forward to assist small businesses across the nation,” Hatch said.