If you are a small business owner and were not awake late last night and early this morning endlessly refreshing your browser scouring Twitter for information, your hopefully peaceful night’s sleep may be the last you can enjoy for some time.
I was fortunate enough to get a call from a financial advisor (not to mention fortunate enough to have a financial advisor) earlier this week telling me that his firm was encouraging all of their clients to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program.
“It’s free money!”
I am pretty sure he giggled when he said it.
Since then, in my spare time while not trying to make sure I still had a business, I have been trying to figure out how to apply to the program. There was very little information because the government was still trying to iron out all of the details with the banks. The best they could do was provide a sample application form, which could change once everything was finalized. All we knew is it would start today.
And that it was first come, first serve…Cue the Hunger Games cornucopia gif:
I bank with BofA, but when I tried calling, the IVR told me I would have to hold for more than three hours. I logged into my online bank account and saw nothing. I checked my inbox regularly. Not even a friendly “it’s coming, get ready” announcement.
Yesterday I decided to drive over to the local branch to see if they were up to speed. I hope when I walked in, with my blue nitrile gloves with the flopping fingertips (recently washed and impossible to pull on all the way) and an N95 mask with a broken strap hanging off my face (picture Bane in a nursing home), that I provided some entertainment for the bankers who had to stand about ten feet away from the door and tell the stream of freaked out business owners, “We’re only taking applications online. Thank you for being a BofA customer.”
— Andrew Shotland (@localseoguide) April 2, 2020
I drove home, washed my gloves in the garage sink, hung up my mask on the pegboard to let the could-be-virus die, washed my hands while singing Happy Birthday to Me twice and came up with a genius idea. I went on BoFA.com and booked an appointment with a loan officer for 9am Friday. He quickly followed up and apologized that he would not be able to meet me in my house. No kidding. I told him I just wanted to talk PPP. He responded with “We’re only taking applications online. Thank you for being a BofA customer.”
Last night I hit #PaycheckProtectionProgram Twitter like an addict. All I could find were news sites announcing that PPP would be ready Friday and the occasional report that some banks were balking at the the terms of the program or refusing to participate. I logged into BofA hoping to see an alert or something signalling when and how I could apply, but nada. You know when you are checking the Treasury Secretary’s Twitter account every five minutes, it’s probably time for an intervention. Around 7:45pm he tweeted:
— Steven Mnuchin (@stevenmnuchin1) April 3, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a form! But still no way to fill it out and no one to send it to. Later that night an “Apply Now – Find a Lender” link appeared on the SBA website, but like most start-up local search apps, it didn’t really work. It still says the nearest bank to me is 10 miles away. Maybe the SBA should do a deal with Yext or something… UPDATE: Just looked again and they took the app down…
I stayed up past midnight testing all paths to the application in hopes that “ready April 3rd” meant “ready at 12:01am April 3rd.” It didn’t.
I asked my oldest daughter, who was still up, to refresh the BofA page before she went to bed and if it updated, she should wake me. She didn’t.
I woke up around 5am and immediately began my quest anew. Nothing in my email from BofA. BofA’s mobile app didn’t load. I took that as a good “something’s happening” sign. I hit Twitter and @’d away at the hive mind. At around 6:15am I hit paydirt and was in (Only after mistyping my BofA password twice. A third mistype would have locked my account. I typed that third password like a damn diamond cutter).
It was fairly anticlimactic after that. The form took about 5 minutes to fill out and submit. I checked my email for a confirmation, but all I got was an email from BofA saying I could now apply for the PPP.
As soon as I finished, I texted my friend, let’s call her Liza. Liza is a single mom with a very active 10-year-old who owns a small agency in LA. Imagine how fun her shelter-in-place life has been.
This was going to make all the stress of the past few days worth it. I was going to help my friend who really could use something good to happen. I got on the phone with her and walked her through the BofA process. The line went silent until I heard her voice crack, “BofA says I’m ineligible for the program because I don’t have a loan or credit card with them.”
Liza, whose company had been a BofA business customer for more than 10 years, had recently changed their corporate structure and closed down their line of credit and their credit cards. They hadn’t gotten around to setting up new ones. Busy with the end of the world and all. But now they were ineligible for the free money. Liza hung up to go walk her dog and cry.
I imagine this administration doesn’t see it’s job as being warm and fuzzy. If I told this story to Trump at a press conference, he’d probably call me “Baby Andy” and tell me I should be grateful for the free money. And I should be.
I know everyone is making this shit up as they go and god knows what a clusterfuck it was at BofA to try to get this stuff ready in time. I can practically smell the smoke from all the maxed out squirrel wheels.
But why did this process have to be so cruel? Don’t we all have enough stress in our lives at the moment? Why did they design this so we’d all have to compete against each other to get in the program?
As part of the CARES Act, every American will get a check based on how many dependents they have and how much money they make. Seems fair and easy.
For the PPP, the only info I had to submit was my monthly payroll and how many employees we have. The government already knows this info. Why couldn’t they just split the $350 billion evenly among all SMBs based on that info, give us a confirmation number to bring to our bank and call it a day?
I will certainly be relieved if I get the money, but I have zero visibility into whether or not I will with no timetable as to when I will find out.
The fact that it even crossed my mind that publishing this might somehow jeopardize my company getting these funds says all I need to say about the state of the union…