Stones Cafe & Bakery is a local hub in North Yarmouth’s growing village, a breakfast-and-lunch gathering spot as well as a grab-and-go way station for travelers on Route 115. So it was a tough decision for Roger Beaudoin to close the cafe on March 17 and furlough 21 workers.

And after a few failed days of trying to keep operating with curbside pickup and delivery, Beaudoin arrived at the same conclusion as many other small business owners in Maine: He will need government help to survive the sudden financial devastation brought on by the coronavirus.

But how to get it?

Roger Beaudoin inside the empty Stones Cafe & Bakery in North Yarmouth on Tuesday. His small business had to close and lay off workers because of coronavirus restrictions, but Beaudoin isn’t waiting for new federal assistance programs to be sorted out. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Less than a week after President Trump signed the historic $2.2 trillion CARES Act, entrepreneurs and lenders across Maine are racing to understand the details of how to leverage the $349 billion allocated nationally to help small business. And they are under great pressure to figure it out quickly.

Many lenders are just getting up to speed on how to participate in the new loan programs. At the same time, businesses have bills to pay and workers with no income. Every day matters. But the fact is, even the U.S. Small Business Administration, the linchpin agency for much of the relief effort, hasn’t sent final instructions to its regional offices on how to implement the law.

Late Tuesday, however, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced that the SBA and the Department of Treasury were releasing new information that will soon allow lenders to begin accepting applications and disbursing loans to assist small employers that have been harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beaudoin is a co-owner of Stones and a restaurant industry veteran who serves on the board of the HospitalityMaine trade group, which represents hotels and restaurants. He didn’t wait for the dust to settle.

One of his first moves was to contact his bank, Norway Savings, where he was able to negotiate a line of credit. He also figured his bank would be a conduit for the Paycheck Protection Program, a key element in the federal act co-sponsored by Collins. The program will forgive loans to employers that maintain their payroll during the pandemic or restore it afterward.

Maine lenders were still waiting early this week for forms and guidance from the SBA on how to launch the process. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce has posted a checklist on its website for companies with questions about what it takes to qualify.

Beaudoin also went online last week and applied at the SBA for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. At first, the website got bogged down and crashed under heavy traffic. This week, he was able to get his application through on a redesigned site.

Beaudoin also contacted creditors to let them know he planned to pay his bills and to ask for their patience.

“You really have to put your house in order,” Beaudoin advised. “Know your costs and other critical numbers. Improve your business so you have a fighting chance for the future.”

Beaudoin’s experience and actions are instructive for other small businesses, experts say. Topping the list: Contact lenders. They’re likely be in the best position to help navigate the maze of programs and possibilities for specific companies.

For instance, with all the attention on the new federal act, small businesses may not know that the Finance Authority of Maine has recalibrated its existing, state-funded programs for coronavirus-related lending. One offering is commercial loan insurance for banks and credit unions that lend to business customers. Another serves as a rapid bridge loan of up to $100,000 for businesses that have a commitment for SBA financing but haven’t received the money yet.

“We’re small but we’re fast,” said Bruce Wagner, FAME’s chief executive. “If someone is in a crunch and needs to meet payroll, we can be there for you in a few days.”

A third program is a direct loan of up to $50,000. FAME is receiving roughly 20 applications a day now for direct loans, which may take a week to underwrite. And FAME’s funding is limited; Wagner expects the agency will hit its $10 million limit on the commercial loan insurance program before too long.

Uncertainty over what’s available and when is feeding a sense of urgency. But before pursuing any options, business owners should step back and take a holistic approach to seeking aid by considering both their personal and business expenses, said Katie Krakowka, an attorney at Murray Plumb & Murray in Portland.

“Rather than ping-ponging from one loan application process to another,” she said, “small businesses and small-business owners should briefly pause.”

They should answer questions that include:

What are my revenue shortfalls in the near term, and how quickly do I need money to cover them?

Can I make operational changes to reduce my shortfalls?

Is there a source of funds that doesn’t require repayment or collect interest?

Are there economic programs available to my industry in particular that might be easier and faster to access?

One example may be a $300 million assistance package for fishermen and fishery-related businesses such as harvesters, processors and aquaculture operations. That element was included following advocacy from Collins and other coastal lawmakers.

Business owners have been calling and meeting with their lenders in an attempt to sort out the latest information.

Robert Leger, chief financial officer at Infinity Federal Credit Union in Westbrook, said he can see the anxiety in customers’ faces, but can’t always answer their most pressing question: When, exactly, will money be available?

He suggests that companies with immediate cash needs should apply online, as Beaudoin did, for the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan. The turnaround time has been around three days, he said.

Aside from working with lenders, businesses may get individual help from SCORE Maine, the nonprofit business mentorship group.

“There are so many different pieces of legislation,” Leger said. “But navigating what’s on the ground today is what’s important to small business. What can I work on this week?”

So far, the answer for many businesses today may be to get all their information in order and stay in touch with their lenders.

Leger’s credit union received an email Tuesday morning from Deputy Director Diane Sturgeon of the SBA’s Maine District Office, acknowledging that the agency’s headquarters in Washington was still working on how to implement the complex, five-day-old law.

The overall plan, Sturgeon noted, is to develop a highly streamlined process to protect lenders while getting cash into the hands of small businesses quickly. A lot of organizations have developed talking points and handouts around that, she added, but for now, it’s all speculation.

But according to Collins, she and three other senators who co-sponsored the legislation that enabled the payroll program wrote on Monday to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin requesting immediate action to implement the new law.

Collins said that beginning on Friday, small businesses and sole proprietorships can start applying. On April 10, independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply.

“Every day,” Collins said in a statement, “I am hearing from small business owners who are anxious about the future of their businesses and how they can continue to pay their employees due to the economic harm caused by COVID-19. I am pleased that the SBA and Treasury have released information that will begin allowing this desperately needed relief to reach small businesses to help prevent them from going under and to help save millions of Americans’ jobs.”

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