Like many small business owners, Tobi Parks saw her business devastated by the Covid pandemic.
Parks had to shut the doors of her independent arts and music venu,e xBk, in Des Moines, Iowa, in March of 2020. It didn't reopen until more than a year later.
"It was terrifying," said the 44-year-old Parks, who had been in business for only six months before the crisis hit.
She took advantage of as many programs as she could — state funding, and Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the Paycheck Protection Program. Yet it wasn't enough to cover all of her overhead costs, including rent, insurance and utilities.
In April, she slowly started to reopen: one night a week and at a very small capacity — making enough to pay for the staff, musicians and inventory for the evening.
Now Parks and other venue owners have some relief. The Small Business Administration's Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program started accepting applications last week for the $16 billion in available grants. Eligible applicants may qualify for grants equal to 45% of their gross earned revenue, with the maximum amount available of $10 million for a single award.
The SBA said it has received more than 9,800 applications as of midday Friday and is reviewing them.
Parks said the funds will save her business.
"May was when we were going to have to tap our bank credit lines," said Parks, a member of the National Independent Venue Association, which lobbied for the relief. She also heads its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force.
"We have gone through every other funding stream that we could."
Parks is fortunate. Almost 98,0000 businesses closed permanently during the pandemic, according to September data released by Yelp. That represents 60% of closed business that won't be reopening.
In general, about 20% of small businesses fail within a year and about half survive five years or longer, according to the SBA.
Now, optimism among small business owners is starting to creep back up, according to a number of surveys.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of entrepreneurs now say their business can survive more than a year under current business conditions, up from 55% last quarter, according to the second quarter CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey.
In addition, Yelp found that there were more than 500,000 new businesses that opened in the past year, down only 11% year over year. New business openings in the first quarter of 2021 reached their highest levels in the last 12 months.
"There is a light at the end of the tunnel — that light being vaccine deployment," said Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"It is still a long tunnel."
While some sectors are recovering, others are being left behind in what's being called a "K-shaped" recovery. There is also a demographic split, with minority small business owners also struggling, Sullivan said.
The MetLife/U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index survey for the first quarter found 86% of minority-owned small businesses are concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their business's future. In comparison, 72% of nonminority small businesses were concerned.
To address that uneven recovery, more targeted aid is needed now, Sullivan said. The chamber advocates focusing on that, rather than any additional PPP funding. PPP ends on May 31, although funding may dry up sooner.
Holly Wade, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Research Center, believes that for the most part, those who were interested in the PPP program have already participated.
"The Paycheck Protection Program was the lifeline available to them to get through the initial part of the pandemic and keep their businesses afloat," she said.
Now, new programs will hopefully fill the need for additional support, she said.
In addition to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, the SBA just opened the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Created by President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan, it will offer grants of up to $10 million per business to replace lost revenue.
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Another source of relief is the Employee Retention Credit, which was part of the CARES Act in 2020 and was extended and expanded in the American Rescue Plan. It's an incredibly powerful program that is far less known than some of the other relief measures, Wade said.
In 2021, qualified employers are entitled to a credit equal to 75% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter.
While many small business owners are trying to avoid taking on more debt, they can apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. They can get up to 24 months of relief, with a maximum loan of $500,000. Those who applied before April 6 were given six months and a maximum of $150,000.
"That is another great program that is easily accessible to small business owners who are looking for some additional financial assistance," Wade said.
While not a grant and not forgivable, the loan has a low rate: 3.75% for a fixed 30-year loan.
Another way to get financing is through Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions, which got $9 billion in funding from the government to help reach small and minority business owners and consumers in low-income communities.
Business owners may also find relief locally. The American Rescue Plan is doling out $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, territorial and tribal governments to help provide assistance to its citizens and small businesses, among other things.
To find help navigating the options available, Sullivan suggests reaching out to your local Chamber of Commerce, local Small Business Development Center or SCORE, a network of volunteer business mentors.
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.