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Groups scrambling to get loan money available for Billings businesses

Posted at 7:01 PM, Mar 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-25 21:02:56-04

For the first time, Congress has authorized the Small Business Administration (SBA) to use its Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program to respond to a biological event.

Daniel Nordberg, SBA Region VIII administrator, told a teleconference of Billings small business leaders Wednesday that the SBA response to the coronavirus pandemic will include using such economic disaster loans. Previously he said those loans were only used to respond to natural disasters, such as floods or tornadoes.

A $2 trillion emergency bill agreed to Wednesday by congressional leaders includes $367 billion for small business relief. But because specific language in the bill is still being worked out, Nordberg could not provide details.

Nordberg and Brent Donnelly, director of Montana's SBA district office, did provide an update on the various SBA loan programs during the teleconference hosted by the Billings Chamber of Commerce. Both officials stressed that those programs could be drastically altered given the emergency situation.

Both officials stressed the importance of relationships and partnerships that the SBA has built with economic development groups across the country. One such partner is Big Sky Economic Development in Billings, which announced Wednesday that it would be offering bridge loans to help small businesses make ends meet until the SBA funds become available.

"With the SBA, it could be several weeks before you actually see funds, said Steve Arveschoug, Big Sky EDA executive director. "That gap could be six to eight weeks. You're still trying to cash flow, cover expenses, and for some small businesses in our community that gap can be devastating."

Arveschoug said the Big Sky EDA's Business Stabilization Loan Program can provide small loans, up to $15,000 for small businesses.

"This program is an effort to fill that gap. It could make a big difference," said Arveschoug.

Big Sky EDA is working to get its application process ready to go by early next week, but Arveschoug pointed out that the Business Stabilization Pool is limited to $250,000. He added that his team is working to acquire additional resources for the progam.

SBA leaders also acknowledged Wednesday that its website crashed this week due to the high volume of individuals applying for the disaster loans. Nordberg apologized for those problems adding to the frustration level, but said the agency is working feverishly to restore its website as soon as possible.