(BBC) – America approved an unprecedented $349bn in relief last month aimed at helping small firms through the coronavirus lockdowns. On Thursday, less than two weeks after the programme’s start, the money ran out, overwhelmed by demand.
The White House has requested an extra $250bn, but the relief has stalled as Democrats and Republicans in Congress fight over how to target the funds.
Now millions of business owners across the country are wondering how they will continue.
“What I fear the most is not being able to survive,” says Agatha Kulaga, co-founder of New York bakery Ovenly.
The business, which started in her kitchen in 2010, has grown into four shops, 67 employees and some 150 wholesale clients, including major grocers like Whole Foods. Its fifth location was supposed to open at the city’s biggest airport this month.
But in March Ms Kulaga shut her doors and laid off her staff, responding to health concerns and the drop in sales as the state restricted activity to try to slow the spread of the virus.
She has since applied to about 20 different aid programmes, including the new federal programme, which offers loans that do not need to be repaid if firms use 75% of the money for paying staff. Companies can re-hire former employees who have been laid off to qualify.
“We had serious momentum and when this happened, it’s obviously devastating,” she said.
As many as a quarter of small businesses fear they will not be able to survive more than two months of shutdown, according to surveys by the Chamber of Commerce and other organisations.
Such failures would dramatically alter the economic landscape in America, where 30 million small businesses employ almost half the country’s workforce.