An SBA District Office Director’s Perspective

Small Business Owners Shouldn’t Give Up During COVID-19

The entire business landscape has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and small business owners – who are the backbone of business in America – are among the hardest hit by the crisis.  Part of DPP’s job is to work closely with the Division of Small Business and economic development partners throughout the state to ensure that businesses in Delaware are connected to the resources they need to thrive. DPP asked John F. Fleming, district director of the Delaware District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), for his perspective and advice to businesses as they adapt to the consequences of living in a COVID-19 world.

Fleming is passionate about small business in America and has dedicated his career to helping small businesses thrive. Prior to his current role, he was deputy district director, lead business development specialist, chief credit officer, marketing specialist and public information officer for the SBA’s Delaware District Office. He also has been a senior federal policy advisor for the White House Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative and was a non-commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps.

Fleming, whose wife is a small business owner with a coffee shop/convenience store in Maryland, recently spoke with DPP by telephone to provide his perspective on the COVID-19 crisis and the support available to small businesses. His main message? That small business owners shouldn’t give up – there are many resources available and plenty of personnel to help.

DPP: What exactly does the SBA Delaware District Office do?

JF: SBA is a federal agency that helps small businesses start, grow and succeed through a variety of programs – usually lending, contracting or technical assistance. We have a fourth area, which is very prominent right now, which is disaster assistance. Locally, we’re more of a marketing and outreach operation. We help people learn about SBA programs and how to navigate them.

DPP: What role is SBA playing right now, during the COVID-19 crisis?

JF: Our role really has become 100 disaster-related. We do everything from webinars to helping individuals with the loan application website for the Paycheck Protection Program of the CARES Act. We’re also doing public outreach – two to three interviews a day with radio, TV, print – getting information from our headquarters and passing that on to Delaware small businesses. And I see SBA as having an even bigger impact in the coming months and maybe even years to help small businesses recover from this.

DPP: What kind of numbers are you seeing for the CARES Act?

JF: The latest numbers we have in Delaware are about 2,000 loans for almost $600 million under the Paycheck Protection Program, and nationwide there have been over a million applications up to the $349 billion limit. The SBA Administrator and the Treasury Secretary have urged Congress to put more money into the program.

DPP: Along with information on how to navigate the CARES Act loan process, how else are you helping small business owners?

JF: We’re giving advice on timing, when to apply and how to use the money properly. What to expect. Although we’ve hit the $349 billion limit, we do fully expect to be funded again very shortly. Don’t stop what you’re doing in terms of the loan application. You’ll still want to work with your lender, and you’ll want to get that application on your desk ready to go. That way, when the money gets turned back on, the lender will be able to process your application immediately.

DPP: So the message is not to give up.

JF: Don’t give up. Hang in there as best you can. More money is coming, and we’re going to do everything we can to try to help you recover. Keep reaching out to SBA, because we may have other programs that could help you. For example, part of the CARES Act pays six months of payments for everyone who already has a regular SBA loan or is a new borrower by September 30. And it’s not a deferment – it’s a grant for six months. It’s a huge benefit, and there’s no additional paperwork for existing borrowers. The lenders just get notified.

DPP: Any other advice?

JF: Don’t fall for the scams that are out there. Don’t give out personal information, especially to a dot-com website. We’re a dot-gov website, and legitimate CARES Act emails will come from a dot-gov email. Don’t listen to rumors or what you’ve heard from someone else – go right to the material and read it yourself. The facts are on the Department of Treasury website, with FAQs and the law itself. It’s very good material, and it clears up a lot of confusion.

DPP: In addition to SBA, where else can small businesses turn to for help?

JF: If people need advice on how to run their businesses, I always recommend that they reach out to our resource partners: the Small Business Development Center at the University of Delaware, the Women’s Business Center in Wilmington and the volunteer organization called SCORE. All three of these can help quite a bit with guidance through the whole business process. We also have been referring a lot of folks to the Delaware Division of Small Business, both during the COVID-19 disaster as well as in pre-disaster times.

DPP: How is the COVID-19 crisis affecting your work on an individual basis?

JF: My day is emails and interviews, calls and webinars all day. And then, at night, I’m doing emails and texts. Sometimes I’m done at midnight, and sometimes I’m done at 2 in the morning. I get asked sometimes, “Why did you email me at 4 a.m.?” and I say, “Well, because that’s when I woke up.” I’m just here to help small businesses as much as I can.

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