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Small businesses are struggling in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, but tax professionals are advising employers to make a few smart moves right now to access the new loan funds and other economic support.  

Julio Gonzalez, CEO of Engineered Tax Services, says there are several essential steps small businesses should take at this time. Gonzalez primarily works with property investment firms to unlock IRS-sanctioned tax benefits and has also advised Fortune 500 companies, including IKEA, McDonald’s, Costco, and Johnson & Johnson.

President Trump on Friday signed into law a new $484 billion coronavirus-relief package that adds funds to two small-business loan programs that were quickly depleted over the past two weeks with a flood of applications. Many employers will be clamoring for assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable low-interest rates loans that could serve as a lifeline for many businesses during the pandemic. 

Gonzalez notes that the good thing about this new influx of cash is that $60 billion will be coming from small banks or credit unions and is designated for self-employed people and small businesses.   

He recommends immediately applying for the SBA 7A loan with the immediate $10,000 cash forgiveness advance. This application is available online and is first come, first served. He notes that this round of stimulus funding may have more funds available for “self-employed and independent contractors and gig workers” who largely got shut out of the last round of loans.

“The issue was that the banks didn’t know how to process those applications,” says Gonzalez of the initial $349 billion PPP funds. “They didn’t have the template for the independent, self-employed and gig workers. It took another 10 days for that process to get worked out and by that time most the money was officially taken. Hopefully, this round will be better for them.”

PPP loan applications become available sometime on Friday.  Gonzalez suggests business owners immediately download the sample application and gather the requested information. 

“You use your tax return and your payroll record to determine what your average monthly income is,” says Gonzalez. 

Next, employers need to make sure their bank is participating in the program as most banks will only take applications from current customers. Gonzalez doesn’t recommend applying at more than one bank because it may cause confusion during the approval process. He suggests employers “go with [their] best relationships.”

“Where is the best access to the money? My clients that had very strong relationships with the executive level people at their banks were successful,” Gonzalez observes about the last round of stimulus funding. “The smaller businesses that didn’t have such strong relationships … weren’t as successful. 

Some employers may not realize they have to register online to schedule an application filing. Gonzalez recommends business owners secure their filing date immediately. 

“I’ve got to think this money will run out in the first week because of the backlog and the new applications,” Gonzalez notes. “I would go apply immediately… I would act [Friday].

In addition to the PPP, many states also have secondary loan and credit programs, employers should check with their local Chamber of Commerce for those programs. If business owners qualify as a minority-owned business, the federal government has additional incentives through the Minority Business Development Agency. 

If employers anticipate any upcoming financial issues they should also contact their bank to inquire about or request loan payment grace periods. Most banks will grant the request.

CPAs can also be a major asset for business owners at this time. A good CPA can gauge how the new tax laws affect business owners and allow them to claim refunds. Employers should also contact their payroll company to take advantage of payroll tax deferrals and other tax credits established during the pandemic. 

“If you’re a small business or self employed you’re already wired to be entrepreneurial,” Gonzalez says. “You have to use that entrepreneurial spirit to go advocate for yourself when it comes to these loan programs.”

Your Paycheck Protection Loan may be forgivable, but that doesn’t mean the funds are tax free. 

Debt forgiveness is a taxable benefit in some states, according to Bloomberg Tax. While the federal government said it will not tax the discharged debt, states will need to update their tax codes to provide similar forgiveness.

States like New York and Tennessee have “rolling conformity,” which means their tax codes automatically update to changes in the federal tax code. But unless other states move quickly, some of the largest states, including California, may tax the emergency benefit. As many as 30 states will need to update their tax laws to help small businesses retain their relief funds. 

Unfortunately, many state legislatures have shortened their sessions due to the pandemic, amending the tax laws in some states may require emergency sessions. Per Bloomberg, one congressional tax policy aide said that since businesses have to spend the loan funds on utilities, wages, rent, and mortgage, some firms might qualify for enough state deductions to offset taxes on a forgiven loan. However, it might not be enough to offset the tax burden for all businesses.

The Paycheck Protection Program allegedly discriminated against woman- and minority-owned businesses by prioritizing businesses with employees, according to a lawsuit filed by Maryland business owners on Friday. 

The lawsuit claims the loan program allowed businesses with employees to apply for emergency funds before businesses without employees — which the suit claims are disproportionately owned by women and minorities, according to Reuters

The suit also accuses the U.S. Treasury Department and Small Business Administration (SBA) of violating equal protection under the Constitution and seeks class-action damages on behalf of all woman- and minority-owned businesses without employees. The SBA recently released guidance for self-employed applicants on April 14, but the program ran out of funds on April 16. 

Yesterday, Congress approved a bill for a second round of coronavirus relief, which would add $310 billion to the small business lending program. Per Reuters, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that $125 billion of the newly approved small business funds will go to “mom and pop” and minority-owned stores.

American Express (Amex) and 40 partner companies, including Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Verizon and IBM, launched the “Stand for Small” coalition on Tuesday to help small business employers navigate their options during the pandemic. 

The coalition’s website offers links to several resources for employers from both Amex and partner organizations. The site also offers tools to first time Amex customers, and extends other offers to all small business owners during the pandemic, whether they have an Amex card or not.

The Amex resources include how to make expenses more manageable, how to get shipping “back on track,” and how to improve online presence. Partners like Adobe are offering users 90-days free of Adobe Sign and two-months free on Adobe Shark, while Dell is offering discounts on PCs, servers and accessories. 

The Senate on Tuesday authorized a relief package that adds billions in new funding to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), expands coronavirus testing and provides extra funding for hospitals. 

The $484 billion bill will head to the House on Thursday for a vote, according to CNN. The additional funds come on top of the $2 trillion stimulus bill passed last month, which has already been depleted of funds. Lawmakers are already planning on the next major funding effort bill, per the report. 

About $310 billion of the newly authorized funds will be dedicated to the PPP. The program ran out of funds earlier this month before many small business employers could get approval for a loan. 

The bill will also give $75 billion to hospitals and health care providers to put toward coronavirus expenses and lost revenue. Another $25 billion will help facilitate expansion of Covid-19 testing.

Not all lawmakers are happy with the additional spending. 

“The virus bailouts have already cost over $2 trillion,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said on the Senate floor, “We can’t continue on this course. No amount of bailout dollars will stimulate an economy that is being strangled by quarantine. It is not a lack of money that plagues us, but a lack of commerce. This economic calamity only resolves when we begin to re-open the economy.”

Even though the Paycheck Protection Program had limited funds, 71 publicly traded companies nabbed millions in loans before the stimulus was exhausted. 

These large firms received more than $300 million in emergency loans, or about .09% of the funds available, according to Forbes. The most highly valued publicly traded company to receive a $10 million loan was Shake Shack, a burger chain with a stock market capitalization of $1.6 billion. 

Shake Shack had as many as 7,603 employees at the end of 2019, but has laid off or furloughed 1,000 employees since the beginning of the pandemic. The company was eligible for the stimulus funds because it does not employ more than 500 people at a single location. 

On Sunday, the company said it would return the $10 million loan. 

Ruth’s Hospitality Group, which operates Ruth’s Chris Steak House, received $20 million from the SBA program via two different subsidiaries. Nashville-based J. Alexander’s Holdings, which owns casual dining restaurants, obtained two separate loans totaling $15.1 million. 

Some companies that received loans are based outside the U.S., including Singapore-based Wave Life Sciences and Canada-based CRH Medical. However, both do have significant operations in the U.S.

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate did not reach a deal on small business relief on Monday, but hope to come to a vote on a measure as soon as Tuesday afternoon. 

Lawmakers are looking to replenish the stimulus program for small businesses with as much as $370 billion, according to CNBC. The bill may also include $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing. Democrats also wanted funds for state and local governments, but that element may be put on hold for the time being.  

“At this hour, our Democratic colleagues are still prolonging their discussions with the administration, so the Senate regretfully will not be able to pass more funding for Americans’ paychecks today,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, per the report. 

The House will convene as soon as Wednesday to debate the emergency bill, The chamber expects a recorded vote, which would require most representatives in their districts to return to Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Monday initiated a “Save Small Business Grant Fund” to give $5,000 in supplemental grants to help small business owners in “economically vulnerable communities.” 

The grants will be supported by the chamber’s corporate and philanthropic partners and must be put toward business expenses, according to FOX Business. Applicants must have between three and 20 employees and be located in a community that is part of the bottom 80% of the most economically distressed zip codes in the U.S. The chamber’s website has a tool to check to see if an employer’s business is located in a qualifying area.   

Applications open up on Monday and employers will need Form W-9 to qualify. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis.

Class-action lawsuits targeting JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo claim the big banks favored larger businesses with Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds at the expense of small business employers. 

The suits say the banks “prioritized corporate greed” and opted to maximize profits, leaving small businesses out in the cold as PPP funds ran out, according to CBS News. The loans were supposed to be first come, first served, but it appears that the banks moved larger companies to the head of the line.

More than 50 publicly traded companies said that they received more than $250 million in PPP loans — including the owner of restaurant chains Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Shake Shack, Pollo Tropical and Potbelly. 

“I am getting a growing sense that some of these policies are benefiting those who need it the least at the expense of those who need it the most,” Dean Phillips (D-Minn) said, per CBS News. “A food truck should have equal access to these funds as Shake Shack.”

Congress may be ready to pass a bill that will provide extra funds to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic and could approve the measure as early as Monday.

President Donald Trump said Sunday that Republicans were “close” to a deal with Democrats and believed there could be a resolution by today, per Reuters.  

“A lot of good work has been going on. We could have an answer tomorrow,” the president said.

The Small Business Administration announced last Thursday that the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small business owners, hit its $350 billion limit. Democrats and Republicans both agreed on the need to add at least $250 billion to the program, but have come to heads on additional spending requirements. Democratic lawmakers have refused to vote for the additional funds until protections were added for minority- and women-owned businesses, while Republicans want to keep the bill specifically targeted on small business loans. 

The Paycheck Protection Program is out of funds, at least for now, but there are companies stepping up to alleviate some of the economic pain felt by small business owners. Here are a few more companies offering grants to entrepreneurs as listed by Forbes

The Save Small Business Fund – grants from Vistaprint and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for businesses that have three to 20 employees and are located in an economically vulnerable community. 

COVID-19 Business for All Community Grant – Hello Alice is offering immediate $10,000 grants to small businesses.

Facebook Small Business Grants Program – $40 million in grants is for 10,000 U.S.-based small businesses. 

Salesforce Care Small Business Grants – $10,000 grants to small businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Assisther Emergency Relief Grant – offering $10,000 grants to women-run businesses in Texas.

Three weeks after the $2 trillion stimulus package was passed, millions of households and small businesses are still standing by for financial assistance. 

Several technical glitches have delayed the distribution of direct relief payments to Americans, the $349 billion in Paycheck Protection Act loans, and the $260 billion in unemployment benefits, according to The Washington Post

Distributing the funds, including the checks and the unemployment insurance system, requires updating a software programming language not widely used in decades.

“The IRS systems are still hard-coded,” John Koskinen, IRS commissioner from 2013 to 2017, told the Post. “It’s not just a keystroke to go into the code and make the change and hope you’ve made it correctly.”

The stimulus program has necessitated multiple coding changes and the IRS has at least 16 other databases with taxpayer information that have difficulty communicating with the other, per the report.

In addition, unemployment insurance, run by the Labor Department and the states, has been technologically inhibited as 22 million Americans have been laid off or furloughed. While unemployment insurance is a federal program, each state administers it for citizens. States’ unemployment websites have crashed repeatedly and few people could get through to call centers.

Per the Post, many states have such outdated technology the systems have yet to make unemployment aid available for gig and self-employed workers who typically do not qualify for money but were recently made eligible. Florida recently started handing out paper applications as it now has a backlog of 850,000 applications. Currently, the state has sent money to just 34,000 people.