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Economy not immune to virus

Michael Smith
msmith@ardmoreite.com
Southern Tech small business advisor Darryl Carter at his home office. Carter says he has been helping business owners navigate new and existing federal loan programs through the Small Business Administration as COVID-19 concerns wreak havoc on employment rates.

Businesses big and small are feeling the effects of coronavirus concerns nationwide and Oklahoma. Nearly 45,000 Oklahomans were among the record 6.6 million Americans who filed for first-time unemployment benefits late last month.

Efforts from Congress to dampen economic woes were approved last month and included a new loan to businesses to help keep paychecks going to those who still have a job. As social distancing becomes the norm, southern Oklahoma business owners are still able to get help navigating the system of assistance from the Small Business Administration.

Southern Tech small business advisor Darryl Carter has been back at work since March 25 and has mostly been helping small business owners understand and apply for federal assistance. Two loans in particular--the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Plan--are being utilized by Oklahoma businesses thanks to remote assistance from Carter and more than 20 other advisers.

“As we are all working remotely now, and no clients are seen in person, the geographical connection of my work is with business owners in southern Oklahoma as well as other areas of the state,” said Carter.

Initial unemployment claims in Oklahoma have remained under 5,000 per week since 2011 and four-week averages regularly hovered below 3,000 in that span of time. Since the week ending March 21, more than 66,000 Oklahomans have filed for first-time unemployment benefits, according to data from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

As part of the $2 trillion CARES Act approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump on March 27, the Paycheck Protection Plan offers loans through participating banks to help businesses meet payroll. Carter said by phone on Tuesday that he is currently working with about 25 business owners to apply for the loan.

Businesses with fewer than 500 employees are the primary target for the PPP benefit, and Carter said some workers may also be directly eligible for the loan.

“From a standard small business, which might be a corporation, also sole proprietors, independent contractors and self employed, they all have eligibility under that PPP,” Carter said on Tuesday.

While PPP loans were implemented as a direct result of COVID-19 and are meant primarily for payroll expenses over an eight-week period, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan is a longstanding form of SBA assistance.

Unlike PPE funds, EIDL funds can also be used to cover operating expenses other than payroll and are issued directly from the SBA. Six months of working capital up to $2 million can be borrowed on a 30-year term, but none of it is eligible for forgiveness.

Carter said the services offered by him and colleagues around the state are part of a partnership between Southern Tech and the Oklahoma Small Business Development Centers. Oklahoma business owners or other eligible workers interested in applying for SBA assistance can receive assistance at https://www.oksbdc.org or contact Darryl Carter at (580) 622-6710.