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Second round of federal small-business aid flows to over 10,000 Hawaii companies

  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Bill Comerford, who owns four Honolulu bars, is upgrading the inside of O’Toole’s Irish Pub, which is closed. Comerford decided to renovate, thinking he would open soon. He said the PPP loan money he received is not enough for him to keep his businesses alive.

    DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Bill Comerford, who owns four Honolulu bars, is upgrading the inside of O’Toole’s Irish Pub, which is closed. Comerford decided to renovate, thinking he would open soon. He said the PPP loan money he received is not enough for him to keep his businesses alive.

A second round of federal aid for small businesses sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic is helping considerably in Hawaii, according to a new report.

But while more federal aid is flowing, desperation among many company owners also has kept growing.

The U.S. Small Business Administration reported last week that 10,414 Hawaii businesses received potentially forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans totaling $487 million through May 8 in the program’s second round.

Bill Comerford — owner of O’Toole’s Irish Pub, Anna O’Brien’s, Kelley O’Neil’s and the Irish Rose Saloon — typically employs 80 people. He said he received a $580,000 loan through PPP’s first round but remains in a perilous position.

Under PPP, borrowers can have loans of up to $10 million forgiven if they spend at least 75% of proceeds to pay employees over eight weeks. The balance can be spent on rent, mortgage interest and utilities.

Comerford said the 25% cap on expenses other than payroll is over-burdening in Hawaii, where real estate costs are around the highest in the nation.

For Comerford’s loan he can spend $145,000 on rent and utilities. However, the monthly rent for his four bars totals $100,000. So the loan covers less than two months of rent for his businesses, which have been closed for nearly two months.

“That’s not going to save me,” Comerford said. “Here in Hawaii we’re a high-rent district.”

Hawaii’s second-round PPP money was part of $189 billion distributed nationwide to 2.5 million small businesses.

An initial $349 billion round, which was exhausted in 13 days in April, delivered $2.05 billion to 11,713 Hawaii businesses.

While thousands of loan applications are still being processed, the latest interim report, reflecting 60% of available second-round funds, shows that average loan sizes are dramatically smaller nationally and in Hawaii, fulfilling a congressional goal.

However, loans are taking considerably more time to process, and some business owners say they need more help.

Comerford, 67, said SBA officials suggested that he supplement his PPP loan with a $1.2 million low-interest loan to carry him forward.

But he said he’d be foolish to do that without knowing when he can reopen his bars and to what extent any imposed capacity limitations reduce revenue and his ability to pay back the loan.

“You’re playing a card game with somebody who is holding their cards under the table and won’t tell you the rules,” he said. “It’s insanity.”

Comerford said he wants state and city leaders to forecast reopening timetables for establishments like his, and he also has asked for a liquor license extension before June 30 to save renewal costs he said amount to $8,000 to $10,000.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has announced that restaurants will be able to operate with dine-in seating starting June 5, but he did not address bars like Comerford’s that don’t have kitchen operations serving food.

According to an April survey by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii and other local industry associations, 24% of 623 businesses surveyed reported that they don’t expect to survive the economic crash tied to fighting COVID-19 if they don’t get more assistance.

“Unfortunately, the data we collected suggest that the Small Business Administration PPP forgivable loan program may not be enough to sustain many businesses,” UHERO said in an April 27 blog.

The average PPP loan size in Hawaii was about $177,000 in the initial round, and the Hawaii Bankers Association estimated that about 11,000 local businesses tried but failed to obtain a loan because of overwhelming national demand for loans that were issued on a first-come, first-served basis through banks.

Part of the reason many small businesses didn’t obtain loans was that really big or valuable companies, including national restaurant chain Shake Shack and the L.A. Lakers basketball team, obtained loans that they later returned after being criticized.

Under SBA rules, businesses with fewer than 500 employees qualify as small, and an exception was made for chains with separate establishments.

In the second round, a portion of loan funds was reserved for smaller banks and community-based financial institutions to distribute, and these lenders were expected to receive more applications from smaller businesses compared with commercial customers of big banks that were fast to act in the first round.

As a result, the average Hawaii loan amount in PPP’s second round was $46,764.

Neal Okabayashi, executive director of the Hawaii Bankers Association, expects significantly more Hawaii businesses will obtain PPP loans in the second round.

“It is fair to say the overall loan total is smaller in round two (and) the amount of loan applications are way larger than round one, which suggests that now is the time for the mom-and-pops to get their share,” he said in an email.

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