Bottleneck continues as businesses seek gov’t relief loans

Joyce M. Rosenberg
Associated Press

New York – Banks trying to submit applications for thousands of small businesses seeking coronavirus relief loans have hit a bottleneck for a second day at the Small Business Administration.

Banking industry groups said Tuesday the SBA’s loan processing system is still unable to handle the volume of loan applications from business owners trying to get aid under the Paychceck Protection Program, part of the government’s $2 trillion coronavirus aid package. The SBA has said the slowdown is due to its attempts to limit the amount of loans any bank can submit at one time. But some banks say they’re not able to get any applications into the system.

“Today is just another slow, frustrating slog for getting PPP loans through,” said Paul Merski, a vice president at the Independent Community Bankers of America.

In this April 2, 2020 file photo, "For Sale By Owner" and "Closed Due to Virus" signs are displayed in the window of a store in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. The second round of loan applications for the government's small business relief program has been slowed by computer issues at the Small Business Administration. Lenders complained Monday, April 27, that they couldn't get their applications into the SBA system known as ETran that processes and approves loans.

Businesses are seeking loans from a $310 billion second round of funding aimed at helping them retain workers or rehire those who they laid off in response to the virus outbreak. Restaurants, retailers, gyms and other businesses were forced to shut down to try to contain the virus’s spread, and other companies have seen a steep drop in revenue as customers stayed home or cut back their spending.

The SBA did not immediately respond for a request for comment Tuesday on the delays. But in a memo the agency sent to banks at midday Tuesday and obtained by The Associated Press, the SBA said it would stop banks from using a system that automatically submits applications into the agency’s ETran system. Without that system, “the loan processing system will be more reliable, accessible and equitable for all businessses,” the memo said.

At some banks, the change means having to manually submit the applications, a much slower process, said Nick Simpson, a spokesman for the Consumer Bankers Association. Others are able to submit applications in batches of more than 5,000, but it wasn’t known how or when the SBA would process them, he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the head of the SBA tweeted that the agency had processed $50 billion in loans in the 24 hours after the program resumed at 10:30 a.m. ET Monday.

The $349 billion first round of funding was exhausted in less than two weeks after the SBA approved 1.7 million in loans. That initial round was also slowed by computer issues at the SBA. In this round, banks have reported that they were being allowed to submit only 350 applications an hour, if that many. Meanwhile, they have thousands on hand.

“Banks continued to try and submit applications around the clock but were often told they had reached their hourly limits after just minutes,” Simpson said.

The White House has scheduled an event for 3 p.m. where President Donald Trump will discuss the progress of the loan program.