As the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on businesses across the country, owners have looked to the Paycheck Protection Program to keep their workers employed.
According to the Small Business Administration, the deadline for the most recent round of PPP funding is Aug. 8, giving entrepreneurs time to submit their applications. And it looks as though Congress is willing to extend the program again.
While it appears many entrepreneurs were able to receive help through the loan program, some say they were denied. Concerns have been raised that those with connections have a better chance of receiving relief than others.
However, State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, hasn't heard from any constituents lately who have had problems receiving PPP funds for their businesses. Pemberton said it's been at least two months since he's heard of any dilemmas.
"When they first issued them that first two or three weeks, I had some calls from the area - and one from the Tahlequah area - but it's been months since I've heard anything about PPP," he said. "That seems to be going pretty smoothly."
Pemberton thinks the program has been administered wisely, deeming it the most successful of all the plans included in the coronavirus relief package. Although there seems to be bipartisan agreement in Washington, D.C., that the next round of relief funding will include enough for PPP loans, Pemberton said he's not sure how much it's needed in Oklahoma at this time.
"I would think that now we're in a Phase 3 opening here in Oklahoma, there are really not any restrictions," he said. "Your bars, your gyms, your restaurants - everybody is open. If people are open and employees are back at work, you really don't need a whole lot of PPP. Why would you?"
State Rep. Matt Meredith, D-Tahlequah, said he received several phone calls early on when the first round of relief funding ran dry. A few locals had trouble with their paperwork, he said, but most who called him said they were told the program had run out of money. He thinks the program does a good job at helping business owners and employees, but he has some reservations about how the wealth has been spread.
"It helps businesses stay on their feet," said Meredith. "Do I agree that somebody like Ruth's Chris [Steak House] and some of this big corporations are getting millions and millions of dollars, when you've got mom-and-pop stores that might never open again? No, I don't necessarily agree with that one."
Meredith said he thinks the program should be extended, and those who didn't receive help during the first round of funding should be put at the front of the line for the second.
The Daily Press has received word that at least one local business owner was not able to receive a PPP loan, but in a Facebook Saturday Forum on July 25, many respondents said they were able to get the help they needed.
Ryan Sierra, a small business owner, said he didn't received a substantial amount of money, but the program fulfilled its purpose, as he was able to pay his employees as the business continued throughout the pandemic.
"We were able to meet payroll without depleting our entire bank account," he said. "It certainly helped us get through the first few months of uncertainty. If small businesses like mine are given priority to obtain the loan, I think it should continue. If not, then other ways of assistance for small businesses should be explored."
Kristene Watson said the PPP money prevented her small business from going under.
"We were able to pay our employees even when we were closed, and pay the rent and keep on top of everything else with these funds," said Watson. "Without it, I don't think we would have been able to continue."
Albert Soto, owner of The Drip, said it only took two days for him to receive his PPP money.
"It really depended on the bank and how many applications they got, and how fast they churned through the applications," he said.
Still, some people suspect the program is not being conducted fairly. Some point to the fact that businesses owned by family members of Congressman Markwayne Mullin may have received in excess of $1.5 million, although associates have said it helped keep dozens of people employed. A request for comment was not returned by press time.
Dell Barnes, Cherokee County Democratic Party vice chair, approves of how PPP has been handled.
"I think it's a great program and I know the state unemployment office has worked really hard to get money to workers and families struggling through the public health crisis," he said. "I definitely think the program should continue through the pandemic."
What you said
In an online poll, the Daily Press asked readers if the PPP is useful and being administered wisely. Responses included 30.4 percent of readers who said, "I have serious doubts about the program and believe it's political in nature, because too many well-connected people get the money while others are turned down"; 28.6 percent of respondents answered, "I consider it somewhat valuable, but don't think it's being handled well"; 23.2 percent of participants said, "The program appears to be rife with fraud"; and 17.9 percent said, "Yes, I believe it's a valuable program that should continue."