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Small businesses search for support: Low-interest disaster loans available

LAPLACE — While the River Region Chamber of Commerce doors are closed, Executive Director Chassity McComack said Chamber representatives are locked into business support mode.

McComack said that if there has been any silver lining to the dark cloud of COVID-19, it has been the opportunity to reconnect with River Parishes businesses through verbal communication.

“The key is personal outreach. We started calling members last Monday, starting with our small businesses to remind them of the resources that are available through the U.S. Chamber and the Small Business Administration funding,” McComack said. “Having that one-on-one communication with them has been like gold. Right now, they are looking for support, and it’s important for them to keep abreast of these opportunities.”

Small businesses have been impacted with each new mandate to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Last week, casinos, bars, movie theatres and fitness centers were closed, while restaurants had to move to drive-thru and pick-up orders only. This week, the governor’s “Stay at Home” order called for the closing of businesses that aren’t providing essential services.

Some businesses such as Oh So Cute Boutique in LaPlace are taking advantage of online orders, while some restaurants in St. John Parish are sending employees out for deliveries to make up the loss of dine-in tips.

Governor John Bel Edwards recently announced that small businesses in all 64 parishes will have access to federal small business administration disaster aid.

SBA administrator Jovita Carranza said more than 440,000 small businesses across the state will be eligible to apply for up to $2 million in low interest federal disaster loans to cover expenses involving fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the COVID-19 response.

The interest rates are 3.75 percent for small businesses and 2.75 for nonprofits, and payments may be extended for up to 30 years.

“COVID-19 is a unique crisis affecting all walks of life, and that means Louisiana’s small business community will continue to be heavily impacted by disruptions to their operations,” Edwards said.

“We are pleased to work with SBA and the federal government in providing this critical working capital to our small business owners who are suffering from the necessary measures installed due to the coronavirus. Our hope is that these SBA disaster loans will be an important part of sustaining their businesses and providing support to their employees who make up over half of Louisiana’s private-sector workforce.”

To get started, visit SBA.gov/Disaster to review the three-step process of applying for a disaster loan.

According to McComack, some small business owners have reported waiting up to 45 minutes just to access the SBA website since it is so overloaded with users.

“People are frustrated, but they have to keep trying,” McComack said. “Don’t give up.”

She added that the River Region Chamber is in close contact with the Small Business Development Center and St. John Economic Development Director Stanley Bienemy to find the best ways to assist small business. Wayne Aucoin, instructor for the St. John Fast Trac program, is available to answer questions about loan applications.

Congressman Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) recently hosted a Facebook live stream with SBA Regional Director Justin Crossie to answer community questions regarding the loans. Many of the concerns centered on problems residents faced with disaster loans administered in the wake of the 2016 Louisiana floods.

On March 19, Graves sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to ensure “duplication of benefits” does not become an issue, as it did in 2016.

“They are working diligently to mitigate this public health emergency, and I want to make sure that Louisianans are not penalized for taking out a loan to save their business and livelihood,” Graves said in a social media post.

Separate from the SBA loans, Louisiana Economic Development is offering an online guide to assistance available for impacted business. It can be viewed at OpportunityLouisiana.com.

The River Region Chamber is conducting an “Are your open for business?” survey to compile a list of companies and services available to the community during this time. McComack said some easy ways to help small businesses through this situation are to purchase gift cards for later use and to tip the delivery person when ordering out.

“It has been a phenomenal unified effort within the last couple of days, between the business community, the chamber and our three parishes,” McComack said. “Nobody is in this alone. We’re all in this together.”