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Maine small businesses got federal money, now what?

The Small Business and the Treasury published an application for forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses, with very little guidance.

PORTLAND, Maine — There is a push to expand the Paycheck Protection Program, which was signed into law with the CARES Act by President Donald Trump on March 27. The program has provided billions in forgivable loans to small businesses in the United States. The problem is, those who received the loans are unclear how much will be forgiven after vague guidelines were initially issued.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was the co-author of the Paycheck Protection Program and according to her office, $510-billion has been divided across 4.3-million small businesses. Collins, alongside other lawmakers, are pushing for the Paycheck Protection Program Extention Act to provide more flexibility in the use of loan funds – now that the financial fallout from the pandemic is lasting longer than expected. 

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly two-thirds of small businesses in Maine have received PPP loans, which is among the highest rates in the nation," said Collins Thursday from the Senate floor. "These funds are sufficient to support approximately 200,000 jobs."

Maine Limousine Service is one of those businesses. Owners Kim Madore-Smith and Teale Smith bought the company in 2007, and this year looked like it was going to be promising, until COVID-19 limited business and leisure travel, canceled proms and graduations, and postponed weddings.

"The year started off really strong," said Madore-Smith. "We were doing better than we’ve ever had before and now we are doing a very small percentage of what we would normally be doing. It’s been really hard."

Maine Limousine Service has just over three weeks remaining on a PPP loan, secured to keep their chauffeurs employed. Teale Smith says they are staying on top of the initial requirements to get the funding forgiven.

"On the one hand it was a lifeline and we greatly appreciate it," said Smith. "It helped the business and it helped our employees. On the other hand, it’s a bit frustrating. If we knew it was going to be extended then we would have set our plan a little bit differently.”

On May 15, the Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department released the application for businesses to start the process to be forgiven, but according to Mark Delisle, the State Director for the Maine Small Business Development Center, the guidelines simply aren't there.

"The problem we have is it’s not all the information you need to fill out that application," said Delisle "There are other rules and guidelines that they have to publish from the Treasury and the SBA. Those are called Interim Final Rules, but they need to put those rules out to really clarify what needs to be done to document your loan in order to apply and have your lender forgiven.”

The Maine SBDC has been guiding businesses through webinars, and the PPP loan forgiveness guidelines topic had around 600 people sign up to learn the next steps. The webinar was postponed because the information needed to help out shop owners, was not released.

“It’s been frustrating because all through April and now May we’ve been waiting for all the final rules, how you need to use the funds, how you count your employee count, what expenses are eligible, how I need to document how I am using the funds from the loans so I can apply and get these loans forgiven," said Delisle. "I think Congress recognizes that and is looking at how can we enhance this and fix this program and I think they are going to make these changes retroactive for the folks who already have these loans.”

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: We regret to let you know we are postponing to... day's Understanding PPP Forgiveness webinar. We want to confidently guide you with easy-to-understand information. Unfortunately, the U.S. Small Business Administration & Treasury have not issued final rules that provide comprehensive details on forgiveness.

Delisle's advice for those with loans is to follow the initial guidelines of 75% used for employee payroll, and the remaining 25% on bills, such as utilities and mortgage interest payments.

"When we have real guidance and the rules about how you are going to talk to your bank about how to get it forgiven, I think you’ll be fine. And you can always connect with a Maine SBDC business advisor for that one-on-one guidance help and we can walk you through what documentation you should be keeping.”

Maine Limousine Service is looking into other loan opportunities as the livery service continues operations with beefed-up sanitary methods in compliance with CDC guidelines.

"We have an ozone machine. We actually do a little bit longer than prescribed for that to be on the safe side," said Smith. "Also, chauffeurs have gloves and they wipe down the vehicles with sanitizer as well.”

They are going beyond the typical trip to the airport, delivering a lobster roll from a son to his mother on Mother's Day, and helping out individuals and family members with getting basic supplies and curbside food pickup."

“If you are still thinking about doing something special for a new graduate or a birthday we can certainly help make it a fun night out, very safely, following all CDC guidelines," said Madore-Smith. "We’re still here and we are happy to help brighten everybody’s day that we can.”

RELATED: What is the Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness guidance?

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