With many American small businesses hurting from the effects of the coronavirus crisis, the U.S. government has responded by passing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). This $2 trillion stimulus bill has many provisions, some of which will help small businesses obtain much-needed capital.

At the National Small Business Town Hall, held March 27 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Inc., several experts spoke about important aspects of the CARES Act and answered questions from concerned small business owners.

During the Town Hall, Inc. editor-at-large Kimberly Weisul spoke with experts from around the country, including Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; David L. Barron, member at Cozen O'Connor; Marilyn D. Landis, president and CEO of Basic Business Concepts, Inc.; Shari Levitin, founder of Shari Levitin Group; and Christel Slaughter, Ph.D., CEO of SSA Consultants and chair of the U.S. Chamber's Small Business Council.

Here are seven important takeaways from these business leaders regarding the CARES Act and how businesses should adapt to these trying times.

The new Paycheck Protection Program can help small businesses immediately

Bradley said the most important element of the CARES Act for small businesses will be the Paycheck Protection Program. This program sets aside $350 billion for government-backed loans that can be used for maintaining employees and paying expenses during this disruptive time. Loans can be forgiven if businesses meet certain conditions set by the government.

“This is an impressive amount of money that’s going to be available to small businesses across the country to really help them weather this downturn,” Bradley said.

Bradley also noted that the CARES Act improves the speed at which the loans backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) can be given out to small businesses by easing requirements and streamlining the process.

“A lot of the programmatic things [that are involved with] getting a government loan are waived in this instance,” Bradley said. “For example, the requirement that you first try to get a loan elsewhere before turning to the government program is completely waived in this legislation.”

Read our full breakdown of the federal government's stimulus programs.

Coronavirus Guide for Small Businesses

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The Paycheck Protection Program will be available to most types of small business

Bradley said the CARES Act makes sure that almost all small business types will be eligible for Paycheck Protection loans. On top of traditional small businesses with less than 500 employees, 501(c)(3) nonprofits, some veterans organizations, sole proprietors, the self-employed and more are included.

“It’s the broadest sense of small business that you can think of,” Bradley said.

For more information on Paycheck Protection Loans read this guide from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) are easier to obtain and offer cash advances

The CARES Act expands the number of businesses that will have access to EIDLs, which are different loans from the Paycheck Protection loans. Bradley notes that businesses can request an immediate cash advance of up to $10,000 on their EIDL loan application.

What businesses should know before applying for an SBA loan

Landis notes that there is an overwhelming amount of information out there for businesses when it comes to SBA loans. She said to remember that “this is still debt” and that it can impact your future cash flow. Her advice is to know exactly what your business needs at this moment and to do your research.

"You answer these questions: what you need, how much you need and can you repay it, how much has to be forgiven for this all to work for you, then you can start looking for what's going to meet your need," Landis said.

Keep track of state laws when changing employee pay and leave

Barron said that changing payroll and benefits in order to meet SBA loan requirements can be tricky. Many states, for example, require businesses to give notice when they are changing employee pay.

“If you are changing pay back and forth for purposes of an SBA loan, it’s important to know there are other laws out there that come into play,” Barron said.

This is the time to prioritize employee retention

Slaughter said U.S. companies were in a talent war before the coronavirus crisis and said we will be back in the same position when the crisis ends. This means businesses need to quickly determine who their mission-critical team members are and do what they can to keep them, even that means taking government-backed loans.

“Try and keep those people who are on the bus with you … because you may not get a chance to replace them later on,” Slaughter said. “Show people who are still with you how much you value them.”

Businesses need to provide value now to retain customers

Many small business owners naturally are scared about the future and looking for guidance to keep customers who are in a state of fear. Levitin said this is the time for businesses to be there for customers and to get loans in place that will ultimately help them.

"We need to give [customers] as much value as we can right now," Levitan said. "We aren’t going to make the same amount of sales we usually make, but the more value we can give them right now, the more creativity, the better we can listen, the better we're going to be at retaining them long-term. … If we can figure out how to do that, particularly with these loans in place, in many cases the money will follow.”

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

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Published March 27, 2020