Small business owners are watching with great interest Congress debating another aid package to deal with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

But groups that represent and work with small businesses want entrepreneurs to know help is available now.

Starting Wednesday, February 24, the US Small Business Administration is opening its third round of $ 248 billion Paycheque Protection Programloans, which are forgivable in many cases. During the first two weeks following the opening date, only companies and associations with less than 20 employees can apply. After that, the application window will remain open until March 31 or until funds run out.

This round is meant to help small businesses especially, and $ 1 billion is earmarked for businesses and nonprofits in low to moderate income communities, the SBA said.

Information on the latest round of Paycheck Protection Program loans is available on the US Small Business Administration website,

The agency has also lifted some restrictions on this round of loans. Entrepreneurs convicted of felony in the past two years have been excluded from previous PPP loan cycles, but will be allowed to apply during that cycle, provided they have not been charged with a financial crime.

The Community and Economic Development Institute (ECDI) is one of the organizations working with banks to distribute PPP loans to businesses in the Columbus area. While loans are available to everyone, the group targets business owners in underserved communities.

Businesses can apply for the loans on the group website, which also contains information on other available aids.

“Providing resources to business owners underserved by traditional lenders is ECDI’s mission and, therefore, represents most of the entrepreneurs we serve,” said Amee BellWanzo, the organization’s marketing director, in an email. “Immigrants and refugees are among those underserved, along with minority groups, women and low to moderate income entrepreneurs. “

ECDI is working with banks to distribute the loans, but BellWanzo said the group could not yet reveal which ones.

The institute plans to coordinate with groups that work directly with immigrant and refugee communities to better communicate loan availability, said ECDI founder and CEO Inna Kinney.

“They all have specific organizations relocating them here or providing services, and those organizations should be able to disseminate information,” she said.

English is largely the second language of immigrant and refugee business owners, which creates barriers to filling applications for assistance programs, Kinney said.

Ohio-specific numbers weren’t immediately available, but the SBA has approved over 133 billion dollars in loans until February 18 for more than 1.8 million beneficiaries.

The non-profit journalism organization ProPublica has a searchable database of all PPP beneficiaries on its website.

Employee retention tax credits are also available for small businesses that saw their revenues drop in 2020 from 2019, said Homa Moheimani, spokesperson for the Ohio Restaurant Association.

“We continue to work on our advocacy efforts both at the state level and the federal level,” she said in an email.

While the real economic toll of the pandemic may not be clear for months, dozens of businesses in central Ohio have closed in the past year. And business owners have reported problems applying for assistance programs, which has prompted advocates to focus on education.

Moheimani said his organization is also working with members who wish to apply for PPP loans to guide them through the application process and provide them with information on how to get those loans canceled.

An information session from the Ohio Restaurant Association is scheduled for thursday.

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