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Small business owners struggle to get help

"I'm worried that by the time help is actually available, it'll be too late for businesses my size," said Kristie Case, owner of Teeny Bee Boutique in St. Paul.

ST PAUL, Minnesota — Since March 17, the sustainable boutique Spoils of Wear in St. Paul has been closed to foot traffic. Two weeks after that, the brick-and-mortar store closed for the time being. 

"The foot traffic was my whole business pretty much before. I think maybe 3% was online... it's been a huge pivot to entirely online sales," said Jill Erickson, owner of Spoils of Wear. 

Erickson said she has applied for multiple loans and grants at the state and federal level. One of those being the U.S. Small Business Administration's Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL) which is offering advance grants of up to $10,000. A bulletin posted April 6 specifies that it's $1,000 per employee up to $10,000 max. Business owners were also told they'd be able to access these funds within three days of businesses making the request.

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Erickson applied eight days ago and hasn't heard back yet. She's also talked to other small business owners who applied as well. 

"Not a single person has seen that money and it's not even so much the time frame—although that is really pertinent... we are in desperate need to get money as soon as possible—but it's also just this lack of communication. When three days has passed, I expect at least an email to say the system is overwhelmed or something to ensure us that we haven't been forgotten or our applications have at least been received," Erickson said. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
Spoils of Wear and Teeny Bee Boutique are part of the Selby at Snelling shopping district in St. Paul.

Kristie Case of Teeny Bee Boutique and Peregrine Kidswear in St. Paul said she's applied for all kinds of grants and loans and has not heard back from a single one. She applied for the EIDL program the day it launched. 

"I'm worried that by the time help is actually available, it'll be too late for businesses my size," Case said. 

"I understand the frustration that the small businesses are having... I'm conveying it directly back to the Treasury secretary, as we did this afternoon," said Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), who serves in Case and Erickson's district. 

Congresswoman McCollum said in Minnesota, there are only 10 staff members working for the SBA while there are hundreds of thousands of businesses applying for these loans. 

"Treasury should work with the Small Business Administration and staff and train more people up to be a support, be at help for our businesses. That could help reduce some of the frustration right then and there," Congresswoman McCollum said. 

Meanwhile, Congresswoman Angie Craig (D-MN) said her office is currently working with more than 200 small businesses. 

"A lot of our lenders have reached the capacity on their balance sheet to actually be able to lend to our local communities and as part of the CARES Act, we are supposed to have the federal government come in and take those loans off their books," Congresswoman Craig said. "So I'm reaching out to Secretary Mnuchin to see how long it's going to take to get those loans off those books so that our local banks can open this back up and have new small businesses apply for these loans." 

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Case said her Peregrine Kidswear business has already lost in the tens of thousands of dollars. 

"It's really hard to know that these businesses that I've worked so hard on, that I've grown over the last seven years and put all of my blood, sweat and tears into, just to know they're hanging on by a thread," Case said. "Maybe someone will help and maybe they won't. It's a tough place to be." 

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said in a statement, "Small business owners across our state are facing extreme challenges that in many cases are threatening their businesses, that's why Congress set aside $350 billion for small businesses in the CARES Act. My staff and I will continue to push the Administration - hard - to get this money out immediately."

The city of St. Paul just launched The Saint Paul Bridge Fund—an emergency relief program for families with children and small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They started accepting applications on April 8. 

Both Minnesota DEED and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce also have resources listed on their websites. 

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.