New help arrives for financially-struggling small businesses and the self-employed

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Between busy unemployment lines, and dwindling loan money, some small business owners feel stuck.

Instead of listening to clients share stories, Mercedes Soriano spends most of her time listening to a busy signal. Soriano owns Tranquil Salon & Suites which has several locations across the Houston area.

Like many at businesses that had to close nearly a month ago, she and her more than 50 employees have tried to get unemployment.

"Finding a needle in a haystack at this point," Soriano said. "I feel terrible for the employees. We desperately need relief just for the necessities."

RELATED: 7 tips you need to know now when filing for unemployment

Soriano said none of her employees have seen any money. It's reached a point where she created a gofundme page just to try and help her employees survive.

She's not alone. Liz Marsh owns a specialty lamp business. Liz Marsh Design went dark a month ago because of the coronavirus.

"My chest is starting to get tight now, not from COVID, but from stress and anxiety, because every day that goes by and the phone is unanswered at the Texas unemployment office," Marsh said.

The lines are busy because so many people are applying for benefits.

New Texas Workforce Solutions numbers show how great the need is.

Compared to March of last year, Houston area counties saw unemployment increases between 350 and 880 percent. Unemployment isn't the only option for small business owners. PPP loans are available up to $100,000 per employee, but owners told ABC13 it's been difficult to get.

"I've applied for every loan," Soriano said.

"It's the waiting game and it's crushing people like myself who are the most vulnerable," Marsh said.

Harris County is now offering owners loans up to $25,000. To learn more about the program, visit this site.

Relief isn't only for owners. Starting Friday, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals can apply for stimulus loans up to $10 million.

Soriano said that applies to many of her employees, workers who want nothing more than to talk to someone other than a busy signal.

"That is the scary question," Soriano said. "We don't know what's going to happen."

The two business owners we profiled applied for loans through Chase bank. ABC13 reached out to Chase.

Chase told us they contacted both Marsh and Soriano and helped them complete their SBA applications. So far, Chase has received more than 375,000 applications for a total of about $40 billion in loans.

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