Florida Democrats say they’re curious about the vetting process that resulted in just 1,000 small businesses receiving emergency bridge loans from the state to keep them afloat through the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 38,000 applied for the bridge loan program which was capped at $50 million. Democrats and small business owners have been calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to increase the pool to allow more businesses to apply for future funding. 

It’s rough sledding for small businesses throughout the state right now.  The federal government’s $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) intended to benefit small businesses hurt by the pandemic ran out of money last week, though Congress and the White House announced Tuesday that another $310 billion in additional money for the program is about to be approved by Congress and signed by President Trump.

“I don’t know of anyone of the businesses my size or smaller that got any sort of funding,” said Michael Dolatowski, the founding partner/owner of Deft Union, a small building and design studio in Miami. 

Speaking on a Zoom conference call organized by the Florida Democratic Party, Dolatowski said he had struck out in attempting to get government funding from the PPP, the state’s bridge loan program, as well as the state’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans program.   

Although he clearly hopes to get some type of assistance, Dolatowski criticized the lending terms of the Florida bridge loan program. The loans are interest-free for a year, and then has a 12% interest rate until fully paid off.

“It can also be a noose around your neck if the economy doesn’t kick back into gear,” he warned. 

State Democrats participating on the call also expressed concern about the future.

“We may not be able to turn this around in a year,” said Sarasota Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good.

Regarding the list of companies who did receive funding from the state, Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson said she had concerns about parity and fairness.

She questioned the process to determine how some companies only received $25,000, while other companies received multiple $50,000 or $100,000 loans (Small businesses were eligible for loans of up to $50,000, though loans of up to $100,000 could be made in “special cases as warranted by the need of the eligible small businesses”).

“The wealth is not shared in my opinion the way it could have been, in order to help more than a thousand businesses across the state,” Gibson said. “That is a very, very small amount of businesses that receive these dollars.”

A review of the companies that received funds from the Florida small business emergency bridge loans showed numerous examples of the same business owner receiving $100,000 or $50,000 checks for their multiple companies.

Orlando Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani tweeted out a letter signed by a group of small business owners requesting the following from the state:

·       An immediate 90-day interest-free deferral on commercial rent, mortgages, commercial loans, and credit card debt for impacted small businesses along with a 90-day moratorium on commercial evictions; 

·      A 90-day extension on the payment deadlines for Florida Sales and Use Tax and property taxes;

·      A $450 million increase to the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program along with additional local staff statewide to process claims more quickly;

·      Negotiations with banks and lenders to hold them accountable in quickly implementing the CARES Act;

·      Due the state's Executive Order compelling small businesses to shut down, a new Executive Order that requires insurance companies to consider Pandemic as a claim to our Business Interruption Insurance;

·      Collaboration with Congress to ensure federal relief programs are better funded and communication to local governments and landlords stressing the importance of small businesses to Florida's economy.