As small businesses continue to recuperate from Hurricane Irma’s wrathful spin through South Florida earlier this month, Florida and federal officials had a message for their owners and managers Wednesday: We’re willing to help. Ask us for it.
About two dozen small business leaders joined Gov. Rick Scott, Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera and Linda McMahon, the head of the Small Business Administration, at a roundtable Wednesday morning at the Latin Chamber of Commerce in Miami to discuss financial options for disaster relief. The Small Business Administration, in response to the hurricane, is providing direct loans to such businesses to help them return to normal after the storm.
The Small Business Administration is also responding to the fallout from Hurricane Maria’s devastating path through the Caribbean last week, McMahon said. The administrator said she is likely accompanying President Donald Trump on his visit to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands when he flies to assess the damage Tuesday.
That storm, lingering off the coast of North Carolina, plunged Puerto Rico into darkness last week when the entire island lost power under its then-Category 4 winds. It also devastated several other islands as it charted a northward course through Dominica and the U.S. Virgin Islands last week.
Scott said the state is committed to providing aid and resources to those affected.
The SBA usually only provides guarantees on bank-funded SBA loans instead of lending directly. The exception, McMahon said, is after disasters like Irma.
After disaster declarations, the agency offers loans up to $2 million for physical damage and economic injury each, meant to help businesses pay off recovery expenses. Businesses can apply for the loans after registering with FEMA.
“Our job is long-term economic recovery,” she said. “We want to get there as soon as we can.”
Scott also encouraged businesses to consider the state’s Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program, which offers short term loans up to $25,000 without interest to businesses with less than 100 employees. Those loans, meant to help business owners keep their doors open until insurance payments or regular revenues kick in, are not intended to replace revenue in that time period.
Irma, which narrowly cut a less destructive-than-expected path through Florida, still slashed power to businesses for days, damaged property and could cost the state billions. Business owners and managers at the roundtable said they were likely to feel Irma’s effects for the foreseeable future: In the case of one law firm, the freeze on foreclosures and collections means its business is on hold for months.
Rosanna Bermejo said she was considering applying for a disaster relief loan after her cosmetic treatments business Med Aesthetics lost power for about a week after the storm. Bermejo, who rode out the storm in Orlando, declined to say how much her business had lost but said the knocked-out power meant she could not resume business till the Friday after the hurricane.
Christina Soverns, who runs business operations for Sawgrass Recreation Park, was still answering calls for the park from her cellphone more than two weeks after the storm downed call service to the family business. The park employs about 40 people and lost about $250,000 in revenue after the storm, she said.
The park’s owner was considering applying for a loan from the state or from the SBA, she said, in part because tourism tends to slump in the fall.
“We may be getting to that point just because it is our slowest time of the year,” she said. “It’s almost like a double whammy.”