Small business stimulus? Local owners say COVID-19 loans are a nightmare

Scrambled on the Roanoke Market says they can’t get straight answers on what to do

ROANOKE, Va. – Friday was the first day businesses could apply for the new paycheck protection program. It’s Congress’ multi-billion dollar aid program to try to help small businesses survive the pandemic.

But for local businesses, it’s frustrating to say the least. Under the program, businesses borrow from banks and then the government will pay the banks back. But finance experts are calling it “utter chaos” and people in our region are struggling to sort it all out.

At Scrambled on Roanoke’s downtown market, the roars of the fridge coolers are deafening in a silent restaurant. Things have sat empty since the shut down started and while time seems to stand still, the bills are still racking up.

Gary Fleming and his wife have poured their lives into the breakfast joint and are struggling to stay afloat. What was supposed to be a savior is more like a nightmare right now.

“Every 12 hours, we’ve got a new set of rules, so about the time that we get everything in a place where we think we’re ready to submit, it changes," Fleming said.

The Federal Government’s coronavirus small business loan program launched Friday but Fleming said his experience with it has been a mess. Joyce Waugh is the president of the Roanoke Regional Chamber and isn’t surprised.

“People are really glad to hear about it, I think there’s a lot of confusion around it because it is so new,” Waugh said.

President Trump announced the small business owners can request the money for payroll, rent and some other expenses. Some aspects of the loan are forgivable for some people, others need to be paid back. It’s a lot to figure out and Fleming’s lawyers, bankers and accountants all are giving him different answers.

“My wife and I talk about this, we got to sleep talking about it, and we wake up talking about it," Fleming said.

Now, imagine that experience multiplied across thousands of businesses in our area. The chamber is trying to help where it can.

“We will get on the other side of this global health crisis, we just don’t know when," Waugh said.

But at Scrambled, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

“Everything has stopped; we can’t pay our bills, we can’t pay our rent, we can’t pay our employees. We are just frozen basically, and it’s really difficult," Fleming said.

The chamber is encouraging businesses to look into lines of credit as an additional way to stay afloat.

Fleming said he just wants to be able to pay his people.

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