Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) written on the mask and money.
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Wondering whether you’re eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program, or looking for help to apply?

The deadline is fast approaching. The money will probably run out even sooner. In our reporting on the program, we’ve heard from a lot of people that solo entrepreneurs and owners of very small businesses are finding it especially challenging to access — while some didn’t realize they qualified at all. In areas marked by redlining and other forms of disinvestment, that can mean many people missing out on aid.

Here are key rules to keep in mind, ways to find assistance and tips for connecting with small business help even after the PPP is no more:

  • The U.S. Small Business Administration runs the program, but businesses must apply to lenders such as banks and community development financial institutions. The deadline, extended by Congress, is May 31. The SBA has warned that funds will likely be tapped out before that, though, so apply quickly if you’re thinking of doing so. As of April 21, the SBA said, about $35 billion remained of the nearly $1 trillion allocated for PPP loans since last spring.
  • These are forgivable loans, meaning that you won’t have to repay if you follow the rules, including putting the money toward permitted expenses. You’ll also need to specifically apply for forgiveness. Otherwise, the loan has a 1% interest rate.
  • Small employers (generally with 500 or fewer employees), as well as independent contractors and other self-employed people, can be eligible for the help. Nonprofits (like the Center for Public Integrity) can apply, too. Find more details about the rules here. You can apply if you didn’t receive a PPP loan last year; you may also be eligible if you did.
  • For very small operations, collecting the necessary paperwork can feel like an insurmountable challenge. But some groups can help. The SBA has a locator here for district offices with counselors, the Small Business Development Center network and other partners that may be able to lend a hand. Local business groups can often answer questions or brainstorm solutions. And some lenders, especially smaller ones, take a more hands-on approach to helping businesses over the finish line.

Connecting with these networks, even if it’s too late for the PPP, could help you find other assistance. The SBA is launching new pandemic assistance for certain hard-hit sectors, for instance. 

And delving deeper into local networks, or helping to build them up, can have powerful ripple effects. A strong local business ecosystem “is really essential,” especially for firms whose struggle to access capital is worsened by the country’s racial wealth gap and other systemic problems, said Bruce Katz, director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University.

“There’s a lot of deficiencies that have been unveiled by PPP,” he said. “The question is whether we can correct them.”


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Jamie Smith Hopkins

Jamie Smith Hopkins is an editor and senior reporter for the Center for Public Integrity. Her work includes...