roccos.jpg

Local business owners have been left stranded after the Small Business Association announced their rescue loan program ran out of money on Thursday, April 16.

The SBA’s $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a part of the $2.2 trillion CARES act approved by Congress in late March to help businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arizona had nearly 11,000 businesses approved for a total of $3.5 billion, according to the SBA’s PPP report released Monday, April 13. PPP is touted as a “first come, first serve” program which applicants could apply for in early April.

Rocco DiGrazia, owner of Rocco’s Little Chicago, said he filed his PPP application within four hours of the SBA’s online application portal opening. DiGrazia has a 20-year business relationship with Chase Bank. His personal banker, as well the bank’s branch manager, even called to let DiGrazia know to file as soon as the portal was available to the public.

“I prepared for it the second we heard about the program and I had all my documents ready that morning. Within four hours of the portal being open I had my stuff in,” DiGrazia said. “When nothing happened by Monday I contacted my banker and asked, 'What’s going on? Have you heard of anyone at your branch getting this loan?' and she said she had heard nothing.”

DiGrazia only found out he wouldn’t be receiving a PPP loan after his bank sent him an email stating the program was out of money on Thursday. The situation is becoming critical for the beloved local pizza proprietor. He has been paying his staff full wages despite closing his restaurant as a part of the program’s loan-forgiveness option, which stipulates employers can’t layoff their employees for about two-and-a-half months after receiving the loan. DiGrazia said he was anticipating the PPP loan to recoup payroll during the pandemic.

“This is the first full pay period where nobody has worked,” DiGrazia said. “I have a 30-something person staff that I paid their full salary out of my own pocket in anticipation for at least getting some of my money back.”

To combat the financial loss, DiGrazia’s staff is returning to work to deep-clean and repaint the restaurant as they get ready to reopen on April 27. Rocco’s Little Chicago will return to carry out and delivery service until the city’s shut-down ends.

Mike Jaret-Schachter, owner of video game studio Running with Scissors, is also a longtime Chase Bank customer who applied for the PPP loan on the first day the application was available and did not receive it. Jaret-Schachter said he believes lenders didn’t follow the “first come, first serve” protocol.

“I feel like banks definitely did not go in any order applications were received,” Jaret-Schachter said. “If I had to guess, the priority went to bigger businesses that applied for larger amounts, like investment funds and things that benefit Chase more.”

Nationwide, 70 percent of PPP loans went to small businesses requesting $150,000 or less, accounting for about $38 billion dollars, according to the SBA’s PPP report released last week. But the highest dollar amount of loans went to businesses requesting between $350,000 and $1 million, totaling up to $60 billion or 24 percent of the programs $350 billion budget. When combined, businesses requesting between $1 million and $5 million account for 46.5 percent of the now-exhausted PPP budget.

To put it simply, about $312 billion went to businesses requesting between $350,000 and more than $5 million in PPP loans, while truly small businesses asking for $150,000 or less only received $38 billion despite being the majority of loanees.

With over 20 years in the videogame development business, Jaret-Schachter is connected with many small business owners throughout the nation. He said he doesn’t know of a single acquaintance who received a PPP loan.

“I have a lot of friends who own businesses and I have yet to see one person respond to any (social media) thread saying they got money or were even approved,” Jaret-Schachter said. “You would think if you know about 500 people with businesses, you would think a few of those got assistance, right?”

While Jaret-Schachter said his company is not hurting at the moment since their products are digitally downloadable and his staff already works remotely. He was applying for the PPP loan in an attempt to plan for the future, should business decline as more people become and remain unemployed.

“It’s not like we are bleeding but that doesn’t mean in two months from now when people have been out of work for three months sales won’t tank. (PPP) is meant to protect against things like that,” Jaret-Shachter said. “We may not be one of the companies that are bleeding out at the moment, like restaurants and tattoo shops, but we do employ a lot of people and we hope to be able to continue to pay them.”