Coronavirus: Life on the Front Line of the Federal Small Business Loan Program – News – The Columbus Dispatch
The struggle to qualify for Federal Paycheck Protection Program loans was a matter of financial life and death for thousands of small businesses. And the struggle also took its toll on bankers who were on the front lines trying to help business owners save their livelihoods and their employees.
There was the owner of a food safety company who was hours away from telling some of his employees that they were out of work.
There was the owner of a timing business whose business was on the verge of collapse because there were no more sporting events in high school.
And there was the weeping restaurant owner with 50 employees at two locations that probably would have closed both.
They are among the thousands of small business owners who for weeks kept Bryan Brzozowski awake at night – them and the coffee he consumed like water to fuel his work.
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These are the people he and his Columbus-based team at JP Morgan Chase helped secure loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, the federal government’s coronavirus relief program.
Saving them from financial hardship became Brzozowski’s obsession. He was afraid of letting someone down.
And whatever the circumstances, he often blamed himself if someone didn’t qualify for a loan.
His wife even hid his phone at one point to save Brzozowski from himself.
“These were life saving loans, and the stakes could not have been higher,” said Brzozowski, head of business relations at Chase. “I was an emotional wreck, but that wasn’t about me. It was a race to the finish line to make sure their businesses stay alive and the people they employ get out. with their work. “
The Paycheck Protection Program was created by Congress in late March after many businesses were ordered to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was designed to allow businesses to continue doing payroll for an eight week period.
But the lending process was chaos for thousands of businesses and bankers like Brzozowski, who scrambled to put together the proper documents needed to apply and follow the rules that seemed to change daily.
The system went live on April 3 and the first $ 350 billion was gone within days, excluding thousands of businesses.
About three weeks later, Congress allocated an additional $ 310 billion to the program, sparking another race for bankers to secure loans for desperate businesses. This time around, there was a little less confusion but no less pressure on banks large and small.
Ohio and many other states have started to reopen their economies, but more than 36 million people across the country have lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic.
“It was heartbreaking to hear the desperation of some companies,” said Jenny Saunders, president of FCBank in Worthington. “The first round was hectic and everyone was afraid the money would run out. We had to call people back over and over and say, ‘Now we need this documentation or this paperwork’, and so many people didn’t have it. It was frustrating for everyone. We were trying to build the plane and fly it at the same time. “
But Saunders and his 40 employees have helped hundreds of businesses stay afloat by securing PPP loans.
Saunders had a new customer who owned 19 restaurants and needed a million dollars to keep paying his employees. Saunders remembers the business owner calling for help on a Friday. Then they couldn’t get into the system to file the loan application on Saturday. They were helping other customers on Sundays. Then on Monday the application was filed and the restaurant owner was approved the same day for the loan. About 10 days later, the restaurant owner received the money.
“I know bankers get a bad rap sometimes, but there are thousands of bankers across the country doing all they can to help people,” Saunders said. “We are trying to keep the economy going.”
There is still PPP money available from the second round of financing, and bankers continue to help businesses qualify for the loans.
Chase Business Banking alone estimates that it will fund more than $ 30 billion through the PPP for more than 250,000 loans, helping at least 3 million employees.
In Ohio alone, Chase has helped 7,100 businesses with an average loan of $ 159,000, for a total of about $ 1.1 billion, according to Chase Business Banking.
Much of the PPP chaos has calmed down, but Brzozowski is not done helping his clients get the loans. He understands why some who didn’t get the loans earlier in the process sent him angry emails or blamed him. He took it personally when his clients didn’t get the money they needed.
“There have definitely been some rough emails and the feeling at times that I have let them down,” Brzozowski said. “It was an emotional roller coaster for all of us, but I’m proud of the number of people Chase was able to push to cross the finish line.”
Brzozowski’s wife even returned his phone to him.