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Business relief questions and answers from the U.S. Small Business Administration (and FEMA)

As Southwest Florida begins the Hurricane Ian recovery process, there are both personal and business financial assistance programs available.

Julie Garrett, public affairs specialist with the Atlanta Office of the Small Business Administration spoke with Karen Moore, publisher of the "Southwest Florida Business Today" newspaper, to address some frequently asked questions. (This interview has been transcribed and edited for print clarity.)

Karen: Who does FEMA serve?

Julie: So, in a disaster like this, and a major disaster in the declared county, FEMA is going to assist homeowners and renters. And SBA is going to assist homeowners and renters and small businesses and large businesses and private nonprofit organizations. FEMA does grants and we do disaster loans. Two different things"

Karen: How do people apply for FEMA assistance?

Julie: So, you can apply for FEMA online at disasterassistance.gov, or you can download FEMA mobile app and apply with the app, or you can go in person to a FEMA recovery center and apply and somebody will help you input information or you can call for FEMA 800-621-3362.

Karen: And what about for the SBA assist?

Julie: For SBA assistance, you can apply online at sba.gov disaster assistance, that will lead you to the application. You can come into business recovery center or any FEMA disaster recovery center and apply or you can request. Or download a paper application and use that to apply and drop that off at a center or mail it in.

Karen: I just want to make sure for the SBA loans, is there a specific link place they have to go to on that SBA page? Like is it identified Hurricane Ian assistance?

Julie: When you you go to SBA.Govdisaster and scroll down the page, there'll be a photo of a road getting covered with water and it will say apply and if you click that, it'll take you and show you what you need.

Karen: Can you share with us the designated counties because I know those have been changing for both FEMA assistance.

Julie: FEMA and SBA assistance are available in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Flagler, Hardee, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lake Lee, Manatee, Orange, Osceola, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, St. John, Sarasota, Seminole and Lucia County. So in those counties, you can get FEMA individual assistance and SBA offers all of our disaster loans.

And then in the contiguous counties, the counties adjacent to those counties, SBA offers working capital loans to small businesses and nonprofits. So in those adjacent counties there is not FEMA assistance. There's limited SBA assistance in those other counties.

Karen: SBA and FEMA work in tandem?

Julie: We do work together on a major disaster like this. A lot of times people will apply to FEMA, and FEMA will say, 'Hey, we want you to go to SBA and apply for disaster loan." And this really upsets people because they think I'm not a business. 'Why is FEMA asking me to do this? I can't afford a loan. I just want to FEMA grant. What's up?

Well, just part of the FEMA process. So you come to SBA and you apply and then there is no obligation to accept disaster loan. And if your loan application isn't approved, we send you back to FEMA for potential additional grant consideration, but if FEMA tells you to apply to SBA and you don't, then you don't continue through the FEMA process.

So it's very important if FEMA says apply to SBA to go ahead and do that.

I remember having to start the FEMA thing when I was applying, and I'm like, this isn't FEMA. I don't get it. I'm trying to get an SBA loan, but I have to go through the FEMA application process and start two different accounts. So like you said with "Hurricane Brain," that your brain is saying, wait a second, I'm confused here.

So it was very good that you shared that explanation as to how the two work together.

Julie:FEMA Locator Tool
Yeah, and one other thing guys, there is a FEMA locator tool, a disaster recovery center locator tool on FEMA website. If somebody just Googles FEMA disaster locator tool it will come up. That is so helpful. It will show you where all the centers are, how far they are from your home, their hours, etc. And at the disaster recovery centers, there's SBA, there's FEMA, and a lot of times there could be Red Cross. So there will be you know insurance people like it's it's like a one stop disaster recovery center.

Karen: When will in-person FEMA centers be set up and then the SBA centers?

Julie: Well, I have really good news for you because we're opening a center today in Lee County. It's opening in Bonita Springs at 10 AM and it's going to be located at The Hub at SWFL, 25071 Chamber of Commerce Drive. (Which used to be the Bonita Springs Chamber of Commerce, so that our local audience knows who that is.) It will be open seven days a week, nine to five. So if you are working you can go in on a Sunday or Saturday and apply, but it will be open seven days a week.

And then we're opening another center tomorrow, and that one is going to be in Collier County in Naples and it's going to be at the Naples players. It's opening at 11. And the address for that is 701 5th Ave. South and that center is going to be open then on Tuesday to Sunday 9:00 to 5:00 and Monday hours are 9:00 to 4:30. So it's open seven days a week, as well. It just closes 1/2 an hour early on Monday.

We're going to be identifying everything we can that can help businesses so that when they come into business recovery center, they will apply to FDA, but also will have other information for them.

The SBDC in your area they can help with counseling for businesses. After disaster like this you can develop disaster brain from this stress. It can just be very hard to concentrate and having somebody to talk to who's outside of your business, if you can run the financials by who maybe isn't a family member and it can help you see clearly that is a really good thing.

So we just want you to know that we're here for you and that we're going to be here for a long time to support you and to help you with your recovery.

Karen: Can you share some of the requirements to qualify for the loans or what kind of damage is going to make you eligible?

Julie: SBA offers several types of loans. So you can apply for a physical disaster loan if you had damage to your actual physical property, so that's for homeowners and renters.

Renters might have lost their personal property like their cars, their things in their apartment. They can apply for up to $40,000 to replace or repair those items. Homeowners can apply for up to $200,000 to make repairs, and businesses can apply for up to $2,000,000. That includes making physical repairs, replacing inventory fixtures, that kind of thing. Even if they're a leaseholder and they don't own their property, they can apply for a physical disaster.

And then we also look at businesses for working capital. What do you need to keep the doors open and to stay in business until things get back to normal? Altogether that is up to $2,000,000 for business owners.

For individuals and business owners, there is no collateral required for up to $25,000. It's treated like a credit card, you know, you just apply. You don't have to to put a note on your house or anything. But if you borrow more than that, we do ask for collateral if it's available.

Karen: That's good to good to know because I had applied for the ideal loan for COVID-19 and I think it was the same requirements and that's what I wanted to find out 'cause I could get that first 25,000 and it was just a phone call and some basic paperwork and the automatic deposit was in my account within a week or something like that.

Is is that about the same setup you're trying to do, the same kind of thing?

Julie: It's a little bit different with their regular disaster loan COVID-19 EIDLs were, you know, kind of an emergency nationwide. It's a little more involved to apply for a regular disaster loan. There's more paperwork and it will take longer than that.

And by the way, you can also get up to 25,000 for working capital without collateral. So really a business can get up to 50,000 without collateral if you're applying under both programs.

Karen: In the past, the SBDC organizations like the Small Business Development Center made available people available to applicants to help them fill out their applications. Do you think you guys will be partnering in that way again?

Julie: Absolutely. And the business owners can also go to the business recovery centers where we have SBA staff who will work one-on-one with you and they are very experienced in business applications.
So you can also go to the recovery centers that we talked about earlier, the one in Bonita Springs and the other one in Naples and get one-on one assistance from SBA.

Karen: I applied for a loan with Hurricane Irma and that disaster loan and I was able to go to the center and the people were so helpful and they were very, like you said, very educated, very helpful and made it as easy for me as possible.

Julie: And the people working there really want you to get your loan, and they're going to help you with your application and writing up any additional information to make the strongest case possible for you to receive that loan.

Karen: Are current SBA loan holders eligible for hurricane Ian loans.

Julie: Yes, absolutely. The SBA looks at every disaster as a separate event. There is no limit to how many disaster loans you can apply for. And if you have a COVID-19 EIDL loan you can also apply.

Karen: And will current SBA loan holder payments be deferred?

Julie: I recommend you contact your servicing center and ask them about that. To my knowledge I haven't heard that that is going to happen, but you are welcome to call and ask your your servicing provider.

Karen: That's good for our listeners to know because again, we've been hit with disasters here before. So there might be a number of businesses that have other loans and we'll want to know about how those payments are going to play out.

Julie: A common question people have is whether their disaster loans can be combined into one payment, and unfortunately legally we cannot do that. That's not an option for SBA. So, if you do get a loan for hurricane and it's going to be a separate additional payment.

Karen: Are you aware of any business grant programs available to businesses impacted by Ian?

Julie: I don't know of anything yet because it's so early, but hopefully there will be some things like that.
But I did identify two websites I think your listeners will want to check out. One is Enterprise Florida disaster assistance page. The other one is the DEO is updating their Floridadisaster.bizwebsite with real time information. So those two websites have additional resources available, more grassroots stuff. Direct business is helping that kind of thing, so check that out.

Karen: That's right, because the governor, yesterday, started a program that's releasing funds to local businesses for assistance through the state of Florida. So that is going to be one of those programs that gives business owners additional assistance. And yes, so we'll get that information out to our listeners as well.

Karen: Do you know if there will be any forgivable loan programs offered like the PPP program that COVID-19 generated, I don't know if that was a a rare exception because of the nature of that disaster?

Julie: That was a rare exception, so by law, SBA normal disaster loans are not forgivable.

Karen: Anything else that you would like to share with our audience today?

Julie: Yeah, we have a program that provides funds for mitigation, so if you had physical damages in your homeowner or business owner you can add up to 20% of your verified losses to your disaster loan to build back stronger, to make your place better withstand the next hurricane.

So you definitely want to look into that because it's at the very low interest rates of the disaster loans.
It's a really good opportunity. So for home, home loans, the interest rate is as low as 2.188%. Business loans are as low as 3.04% and for non profit organizations all loans are at 1.875%. And terms are up to 30 years, by the way, to make the payments as reasonable as possible.

This is such vital information for our local business owners as we continue to work our way through the Hurricane Ian disaster.

I so appreciate you spending time with us and sharing that information today, Julie, thank you again.

SBA Recovery Centers:

  • LEE COUNTY: The Hub at SWFL, Inc.: 25071 Chamber of Commerce Drive, Bonita Springs
    Opens Wednesday, Oct. 5 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    Hours: Sunday - Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • COLLIER COUNTY: The Naples Players: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples
    Opens Thursday, Oct. 6 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
    Hours: Monday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday - Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY: Chloe Coney Urban Enterprise Center: 1907 E. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa
    Hours: Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Closed Sunday