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Extended Paycheck Protection Program May Not Be Enough To Help Small Businesses


This winter, millions of small businesses are barely surviving. Congress has approved another round of loans to help those businesses. But as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, it won't be enough for those closest to the edge.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: This year, Arindam Jha opened an ice cream shop, Glazier Rolls in San Francisco's Union Square. His timing couldn't have been worse.

ARINDAM JHA: Our grand opening was 21 of February, and our shop was closed because of COVID on March 15.

ZARROLI: Jha was eventually allowed to reopen, but tourists have stopped coming to the city, and those downtown office workers he hoped would patronize his store are mostly working remotely. So he's doing only about 15% of the business he expected.

JHA: We are not breaking even. Every day that we are open, we are actually bleeding money. If we just close the shop, I think we would save some money.

ZARROLI: Jha is one of millions of small business owners whose livelihoods are on the line. The pandemic has left many businesses in dire shape, says Matthew Revere of the advisory firm Next Street.

MATTHEW REVERE: We're expecting 30% of businesses overall to close with more dramatic numbers in minority women-owned businesses that may be over 50%. It's - they're very sobering numbers.

ZARROLI: Last week, after months of bitter negotiations, Congress threw out a lifeline. It extended the Paycheck Protection Program, which lent money to more than 5 million businesses earlier this year. For some business owners, the program comes just in time. Anita Sanders owns a Buffalo company that provides security guards for malls and office buildings. Business dried up overnight when a lot of the buildings had to close.

ANITA SANDERS: We had security in the theaters, the malls. We had a lot of government entities that we covered, like libraries, courthouses. A lot of them shut down immediately.

ZARROLI: Sanders doesn't think business will pick up soon, so she wants to pivot by offering training courses for guards who need to renew their licenses. But she needs money, and that's where the Paycheck Protection Program comes in.

SANDERS: It's definitely highly important. I mean, it could make a difference from making it through 2021.

ZARROLI: Still, not every business qualifies for the program. Borrowers need to show their revenue is down 25% from last year. So new businesses like Arindam Jha's ice cream store probably aren't eligible. Jha plans to apply anyway because you never know.

JHA: Even though we would apply for PPP, or whatever government calls it this time, and we might be approved, it would be a stopgap solution, and it might not save my business for the long term.

ZARROLI: If customers aren't coming, loans won't make a difference. Before the pandemic, customers lined up around the block at the San Francisco restaurant Che Fico to try fancy cocktails, quirky pasta and Roman-Jewish appetizers. Now it's empty. Owner Dave Nayfeld tries hard to keep his business going. He sells cookie tins and holiday meal kits. But with winter here, hanging on is getting tougher.

DAVID NAYFELD: January is going to be a really, really, I think, sad month for the restaurant industry. You're going to see tens of thousands of restaurants closed.

ZARROLI: Nayfeld says all the lockdowns and reopenings and more lockdowns have left restaurants in debt. Some invested heavily in outdoor seating, only to be told they couldn't use it. They won't want to apply for a loan, even if it might be forgiven.

NAYFELD: Most restaurants carry debt already, so the idea of something converting to more debt just is essentially like a cyanide pill that's just going to kill you later.

ZARROLI: Instead, Nayfeld says, many restaurants will cut their losses. They'll shut down altogether, and more jobs will be lost. Help is finally coming for some small businesses. For many others, it won't be enough to save them. Jim Zarroli, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.