“I’m starting to lose hope, to tell you the truth.” Jan Van Liew, who runs the one-truck Van’s Logistics with her husband Robert, said she tried to apply for a coronavirus bridge loan through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) three days after Congress passed the law last month setting up the federal aid program.
“The bank we usually work with said they weren’t taking any more applications. They were already over capacity,” she said. “So I went to a local bank in our hometown that I don’t bank with and they took my application. But what they didn’t tell me was that it was just going to sit in a pile for non-members. When I called to check, they said funding was empty and they weren’t [filing] any more applications.”
Like the Van Liews, many other owner-operators and small fleets report having applied for the PPP loans, part of the federal CARES Act, yet say they were either turned away for a loan or simply stuck in a long queue of applicants. But a small glimmer of hope remains for those who missed the original $350 billion, which ran dry in less than two weeks.
A $310 billion refill for the PPP appears to be on deck, with Congress and the president announcing a deal Tuesday afternoon. Last night, the Senate passed the bill, and it awaits approval by the House, which would send it to President Trump for his signature. Those who’ve already applied in the first round may not need to resubmit an application — it’s best to double-check with the bank you’re working with.
The money is allotted for helping small and medium-sized businesses make payroll and other obligations for 10 weeks to help survive the coronavirus freeze.
Though banks are acting as the middlemen for the loans, the money provided to businesses will essentially transition to a grant. Banks are required to forgive the loans if they’re used properly, and the Small Business Administration foots the bill. SBA will pay back the banks out of the PPP fund, which will hit, all told, $670 billion if it’s approved.
Those with applications already submitted likely will be better positioned to score a PPP loan when the next round of funding comes. ATBS, the nation’s largest business services firm for owner-operators, is encouraging operators to get started on the process, if they already haven’t. That means working with your bank or another lender and rounding up the required paperwork.
Cheese hauler Rick Sterling, a two-truck owner-operator out of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is one of the many who applied for a PPP loan in the first round of funding. “But I never heard back” about the application’s status, he said. “I reached out to my credit union and talked to my business lender there, and they said there’s a second round coming, so go ahead and apply and they would process it.”
Sterling said he’s seen steady work since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic stall. Grocery stores rushed to restock on products like cheese, though his restaurant-focused work dried up quickly. The grocery side of his work has returned to normal, but the restaurant side has actually picked up some, he said, anticipating a possible re-opening in the coming weeks as states consider backing off some of the more severe social distancing measures.
Any money he receives from the PPP would go to help him stay afloat and to pay his driver, said Sterling.
“I don’t see us getting a loan,” said Carole Salyer. She and her husband Donald run Donald Salyer Transport, which they started in 2014, though the pair has operated small fleets in various forms for over 40 years. In their current setup, Carole and Don run the business and have the DOT authority, but two leased owner-operators that run a few trucks each do the hauling for them.
“We don’t have great credit, and we’ve struggled,” said Carole. “The big guys are getting the money, not the little guys.” She emailed the loan officer at her bank late last week, following up on the PPP application she submitted for the first round of funding. “They sent me back a formal generic letter that basically said ‘hang on and wait until this next one comes up.'”
Since they missed the first round of funding, the Van Liews were forced to find alternatives to make ends meet. Robert had been working port freight in Washington since 2017, but that tapered off even before the March stall, given much of it was bound to or from China. He’d picked up a steady customer hauling paper regionally five days a week, but that tapered down to nothing.
Last week, Robert leased his 2006 Freightliner on to another carrier and has been running long-haul loads. “He was home every night, now I may not see him for a month,” says Jan. In the meantime, she’s been trying to find work, too, without luck so far. “It’s impossible to find anything. It’s just a tough time.”
Robert won’t get his first settlement as a leased operator for a few weeks, Jan said. And any money in his maintenance escrow won’t be available until the end of June. In the meantime, “I called my bank, and they said right now they’re still not accepting any new applications, and they won’t tell you where you are in the queue with the past applications that weren’t submitted because funding ran out.”