The coronavirus pandemic has sent millions into unemployment and shaken small businesses. There were 104,217 initial unemployment claims filed the week ending April 11, said the Colorado Department of Labor and Unemployment. The department said that 231,610 unemployment claims have been filed in the past four weeks.
Local businesses deemed "non-essential" were ordered to close by Gov. Jared Polis, effective March 26. The following day, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) in an attempt to keep the economy flowing and to alleviate some financial burden for people. Among other things, the CARES Act could provide stimulus checks of approximately $1,200 to millions of Americans, as well as assist small businesses impaired by essential business orders and social distancing guidelines across the country through an established Paycheck Protection Program.
Things haven't exactly went as planned with the CARES Act funding distribution, however, and local small business owners of the Arkansas Valley are feeling the effects.
As of Thursday, the federal Small Business Association said that it's unable to accept new applications at this time for its Paycheck Protection Program or its Economic Injury Disaster Loan-COVID-19 assistance program due to a lack of funding.
Weeks after people lost their jobs, temporarily or indefinitely, following non-essential business shutdowns, CARES Act stimulus checks were due in households across the country Wednesday. But millions who use tax preparation services such as H&R Block still haven't received their funds, according to national reporting from the Washington Post.
The Small Business Association said that it will continue to process applications from those who have already submitted them on a first-come, first-served basis. But even filing an application before Thursday has proved troublesome for some residents of the lower Arkansas Valley.
Abigail Vantine opened what she called her dream salon, Juniper Hair Co., in Manzanola three years ago. She had been through tough times, Vantine said, but with the help of family, friends and the community, she pulled through, and the hardest of those days seemed behind her. Finally, she was able to hire a nail technician and her business was climbing out of the red.
Then COVID-19 entered the scene. With it came business closures, social distancing guidelines and for Vantine, a lot of sudden paperwork.
"I had already decided two days before (the non-essential businesses closure) to close down for a little while because of some responses that I had heard in town from people, and I knew it was on me to keep my clientele safe," Vantine said in a Facebook message to the Tribune-Democrat. "Then three days later it was official from the governor."
In Vantine's experience, there was so much information regarding Small Business Association funding, that she was confused about what to do first. She said she didn't want to file the wrong form and get herself into trouble, or contribute to the heavy website traffic that was calling the business association's website to stall.
Vantine sought help from Mickie Lewis at the Southeast Colorado Small Business Development Center, who was able to guide Vantine through the proper process.
"But the SBA sites are so inundated that you can’t log in or check on status. The whole country is trying to apply, so you just have to be patient right now," Vantine said on Friday.
On Monday, Vantine added, "And when I signed up, you were supposed to be able to get the $10k advance to the loan within three days. I have heard nothing and there is no login available. It’s a mess."
Vantine said she misses work "terribly," but that she considers herself blessed to have a career that she loves and is passionate about. She misses her clients and connections, she said, but she understands that "we have never faced something like this in our lifetime."
She isn't sure how things will turn out for Juniper Hair Co., but that she's applied for all the help she can get, and that the Southeastern Colorado Small Business Development Center has been a "great resource" for helping her get through all the red tape. Vantine's currently spending her time at home creating new recipes and new projects.
"I’ve never done a more thorough job spring cleaning in my life! And when I hear that it’s time to open my sweet little salon in Manzanola, I will be there and I will hug every single one of my clients," said Vantine.
When people do receive their stimulus checks, Director of Otero County Department of Human Services Donna Rohde said, they should consider spending those funds on their bills. Rohde said that any holds on evictions, mortgages and bills will not last forever.
She also observed that for many families, one stimulus check of $1,200 would not be enough if work holds and stay at home orders remain in place until the end of May or June.
“It is very possible that even the most prudent families will not be able to provide the basic necessities for several months on a one-time payment,” said Rohde. “Whether that funding can be made available at the federal level is a question I cannot answer. I do know that some businesses are continuing to pay their staff, some businesses are going to be able to access federal funding directly which may help as well.