Small businesses may be eligible for federal relief now

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Small business owners suffering during the financial catastrophe brought by the coronavirus pandemic can now apply for federal relief, though some who've started the process said it's unclear when the help will arrive.

The government plans to begin disbursing loan funds to business owners immediately through the new Paycheck Protection Program, which is part of a relief package that was signed into law last week.

Humberto Martinez, owner of the Burgerim restaurant in downtown Houston, said he applied Friday as soon as the forms were available. He has kept the place afloat by turning to a take-out only approach.

Martinez said he's trying to stay open, in part to help his employees who are sticking with him.

"I've had to cut a lot of people's hours. Thankfully, I haven't had to let anybody go. We have just enough business to keep them on payroll," he said.

The Small Business Administration is guaranteeing $349 billion in potentially forgivable loans under the stimulus package. But for Martinez, the process hasn't been smooth thus far.

"It's a little complicated. Nobody has any answers. The bankers don't have any answers. Can't get a hold of anybody at SBA," he said.

Small businesses with fewer than 500 employees apply to borrow up to $10 million to be paid back over two years at a low rate, and some portions, like those used to pay salaries, may be forgiven. However, there are stipulations. If employees are laid off, the amount forgiven will be reduced.

"I just applied for everything that I could and hopefully something comes through," Martinez said.

But it hasn't rolled out perfectly so far.

Some banks like Chase said they're not ready to take applications.

Still, with the process started and signs of possible relief on the horizon, many business owners like Martinez are holding out hope that they can survive the wait.

"It's tough. It's tough, but God's on my side. Something's going to come of this," Martinez said.

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SEE RELATED LINK: What small businesses need to know about getting aid during coronavirus outbreak

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