Small businesses are out of time, but COVID-19 aid comes with massive roadblocks

Just a few weeks ago, Seattle-based small business SnapBar — which provides custom photo booth rentals and selfie stations for events nationwide — was thriving, getting ready for a full slate of spring and summer events. But amid business closures and shelter-in-place orders brought on by COVID-19, owner and father-of-three Sam Eitzen and his team of 18 had to get creative — quickly — to keep the company going. After Sam and his leadership team slashed their own salaries by 50% and held a nearly all-night brainstorm session, they pivoted SnapBar’s entire business strategy to ship and sell gift boxes packed with items crafted by local small businesses.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed on March 27 to help business owners like Sam via $350 billion in federal loans and grants. But major structural flaws and implementation issues are preventing these loans from getting to business owners quickly — if at all — and providing the level of help they need.

Small businesses and their employees have already run out of time. Data from my company Gusto, which provides payroll, benefits, compliance and HR software to 100,000 small businesses, shows that layoffs increased by more than 1,000% from February 2020 to March 2020. There was also a 9% gap in overall wages paid to small business employees in March.