2019-01-11 16:36:27

The chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business is calling on President Trump to restart small-business lending as the government shutdown is about to become the longest ever.

The Small Business Administration on Dec. 22 halted its popular loan programs that are heavily used by small and midsize businesses, a major setback to entrepreneurs trying to start or expand their companies and one that is rippling through the economy. The only loans still flowing are to places hit by severe natural disasters.

“The level of anxiety is unprecedented,” said Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business. She urged Trump to “definitely reopen” SBA loan programs and said “the agency has to take proactive measures.”

Velázquez wants a swift end to the partial government shutdown, which is on Day 21 and has caused hundreds of thousands of federal employees to miss a paycheck, and thousands of contractors to not get paid on time. But if the shutdown drags on, she would like to see the Trump administration find a way to get small-business loans processed again, much like they are doing with Internal Revenue Service tax refunds.

“It is important that small businesses who apply for loan guarantees that they are able to get their money. This is going to have a direct impact on the operation of their businesses,” Velázquez said.

The veteran congresswoman sent a letter Friday to SBA Administrator Linda McMahon asking 18 detailed questions about how businesses can access capital during the shutdown and what McMahon’s plans are for restarting and dealing with the backlog of loan applications.

A call to the SBA for comment was met with a recording that said, “The U.S. Small Business Administration is shut down.”

The SBA typically handles almost 200 loans for working capital via the 7(a) loan program and about 120 loans a day for commercial properties through what’s known as the 504 loan program. In total, these two programs alone are dispensing nearly $200 million worth of loans a day to small and midsize U.S. businesses.

Velázquez said her district office in New York City and her committee office in Washington have received an extraordinary number of calls from business owners who can’t get their funding and fear they will not be able to close deals for new equipment and property or to make payroll.

Zachary Davis is one of thousands of small-business owners anxiously checking news about the shutdown. He lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., about 2,800 miles from Washington, D.C., but the partial government shutdown is about to derail his plans to expand his business.

Davis and chef Kendra Baker co-founded the Penny Ice Creamery in the summer of 2010, a quirky ice cream shop in Santa Cruz where they make all their flavors on-site. They prefer to spend their time dreaming up new ice cream flavors such as crowd favorites “Bourbon Bacon Chocolate” and “Dark Chocolate Sorbet,” but the government shutdown is directly affecting them.

They are on the verge of opening their third location and had spent months scouting a site, working with an architect on the design and filling out all the paperwork. They were planning to finalize their $900,000 loan this month, a “pretty big deal,” but the SBA isn’t processing any new loans.

“It’s frustrating. We open our doors every day. I’m not in a position where I can shut down my business like the government,” Davis said.

The SBA guarantees loans, which enable small businesses such as the Penny Ice Creamery to borrow money at affordable interest rates. If the SBA doesn’t reopen soon, Davis fears they won’t be able to buy the property. While there are other financing options, they typically charge much higher interest rates.

Davis was affected by the shutdown in 2013 under President Barack Obama, which lasted for 16 days as the White House sparred with House Republicans over the budget. But Davis said that only delayed his financing by about a week — an annoyance but not a deal killer.

This shutdown could have a deeper effect as it heads into a fourth week. Each day that ticks by without a deal to end the shutdown is unnerving, and Davis finds himself driving by the property they are trying to buy almost daily.

“I can’t stress enough how much it would be a setback for us to miss out on this opportunity,” Davis said.

Trump’s Office of Management and Budget, which is overseeing the partial government shutdown, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what will happen to SBA loans. Rep. Steve Chabot (Ohio), the ranking Republican on the House Small Business Committee, also did not return requests for comment.

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