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SBA's Hayward cautiously says small businesses coming out of the woods

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Mark Hayward, district director of the Small Business Administration, was ready to retire last year after serving the agency for 40 years. But when the pandemic hit, three U.S. senators begged him to stay on. They knew no one knows Rhode Island businesses the way Hayward does.

Hayward did stay, and he is frequently the only one of five assigned to the office to be at their desk, as the others are working remotely.

SBA phones ring persistently and Hayward and his staff are faced with upwards of 400 emails daily. The office is humming and it’s all because the SBA is the facilitator of federal aid aimed at assisting businesses to survive the pandemic. Hayward and his office have been going non-stop since the CARES Act was passed and the first round of relief aide – the Payroll Protection Program – provided businesses with low interest loans that became forgivable based on certain factors became available about a year ago. To be forgiven, the money had to be used for payroll as well as some costs such as rent over an eight-week period.

Hayward told the Warwick Rotary Club last Thursday that the SBA processed more than 17,000 PPP loans totaling $1.7 billion. Now businesses are eligible to apply for a second round of PPP regardless of whether their loans on the first round have been forgiven. So far under the program, 9,000 businesses have been approved for an additional $900 million. Topping that off the district office has processed 10,857 EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) loans for a total of $579,902,599.

Hayward called PPP an employment program that brought people back to work even though the economy was suffering and some jobs weren’t there. He said he is especially concerned for small retailers and those in the hospitality business.

But did PPP work? Could businesses have survived without the program?

“The dollars for salary kept many alive to the point where they could secure their staff for a longer period,” Hayward said in an email exchange following the meeting.

He was also asked whether he thinks the second round of PPP is enough to get Rhode Island businesses out of the woods.

“I don’t think we are as of yet. Can we see the end of the road? As long as we continue to open in an expeditious and orderly manner … then the answer is we will get there.”

The program has been subject to fraud, as some legitimate businesses are learning.

Businesses that didn’t apply for the program have received notices to file paperwork and even make loan payments.

Hayward didn’t have specifics on the number of fraudulent PPP applications or the total. His guess is that false applications number in the thousands.

Asked how this could happen, Hayward replied business and individual identification information was most likely gotten from the “dark web” and the massive Equifax data breach of 2017.

After being talked out of retirement once, Hayward said in an email that he doubts he’ll stay on beyond December. And what more might he care to add about running the district in a pandemic?

“We have been doing a lot for a lot of people, we have reached out to people who were in desperate need of help and I think my staff have done a great job of responding to questions.  There is much more but I think you got the picture,” he said.

The effort hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Warwick Rotarian Bernard Rinn had this to say when Hayward concluded his remarks on the Zoom meeting: “The SBA’s finest hour has been the last year.”

SBA, small business

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