COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Starting Wednesday, the country’s smallest businesses will have exclusive access to a popular federal aid program. Two days prior, President Joe Biden announced changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for businesses with fewer than 20 employees.
“Us at the bottom, we’re the ones getting hit the hardest,” said Leon Lewis, the operator of Lincoln Cafe in the King-Lincoln District of Columbus.
When a statewide stay-at-home order was enacted in spring 2020, Lewis closed the doors for two months while he adapted the business and sorted through new health restrictions.
When the shop reopened, Lewis temporarily laid off two of his six employees and reduced hours in an effort to keep the business afloat.
“Everybody wanted to come back to work,” recalled longtime employee Gladys Alvarez. “That was really hard for him, hard for everybody that’s used to working here, said Alvarez, “You need to pay bills and the bills are still the same.”
Lincoln Cafe qualified for a small loan through the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program in 2020, but Lewis said it was barely enough to cover a round of paychecks and rent.
“Any little bit does help, although it wasn’t substantial,” he said.
The early version of the PPP drew criticism when large, seemingly well-off businesses qualified for assistance and muscled away resources from smaller employers.
“Bigger businesses, they’re making more money of course and they can afford to do certain things. Us at the bottom, again, it’s difficult,” Lewis said.
During a speech Monday, President Biden claimed small businesses make up 90 percent of American businesses and said the PPP changes will now cover self-employed workers and independent contractors.
The move is one he believes will cover more ventures owned by women and people of color, which some lawmakers say have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Lincoln Cafe sits adjacent to the historic Lincoln Theatre in a neighborhood known for its cultural significance to the city’s Black community. The restaurant and coffee shop doubles as a gathering place, hosting community meetings, live entertainment, and charity events.
“I always call this a community-driven business,” Lewis said.
“We have all different [kinds of] people working here,” added Alvarez. “We’ve always worked with the community. That’s what I like about it.”
Lewis said he’s grateful for another round of assistance, though he’s uncertain the aid will be enough to sustain the business.
“This second round of PPP, it will be helpful as well. But then we talk about – what have we really lost?” he said.
According to NewsNation Now, the latest PPP, which began on Jan. 11, has already paid out $133.5 billion in loans. It’s about half of the $284 billion allocated by Congress, with an average loan under $74,000. The program is scheduled to end on March 31.
Small businesses that have already applied cannot revise the loan amounts already determined. Larger businesses that have already applied will not lose their place in line.
A further renewal of the program is not included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” which he hopes Congress will pass in the coming weeks.