Downtown streets were unusually empty in the afternoon on Tuesday, March 17. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

NOTE: Salem Reporter is providing free access to its content related to the coronavirus as a community service. Subscriptions are vital to continue this so please sign up today.

Salem businesses will have access to a federal lending program again on Monday as the U.S. Small Business Administration pledges it will take steps to ensure that smaller companies have access to the money.

The Paycheck Protection Program was established by Congress last month. It provided $349 billion in forgivable loans to businesses to keep workers employed and to help with rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.

The program ran out of money less than two weeks after launching on April 3 and drew criticism that deep-pocketed corporations benefited while smaller businesses were left empty handed. On Friday, President Trump signed new legislation adding $310 billion to the program.

The U.S. Small Business Administration will start accepting applications from businesses through lenders on Monday morning.

During a conference call with reporters on Friday, Jeremy Field, SBA regional administrator, said that the administration’s local offices have reached out to business owners to help them prepare and to have a lender secured for when the program starts back up.

He said the agency is working with credit unions and other lenders that serve small businesses. He also pointed out that $60 billion in the new funding is set aside for community banks and other small lenders.

“Also, when lenders submit an application, they include asset size and other information so we can monitor what sizes and types of businesses are getting approved for funding,” he said.

Field said that the SBA has updated its computer system to accommodate the increase in loans that’ll be submitted by lenders.

Cynthia Cowell, public information officer for the SBA Office of Disaster Assistance, the agency added hundreds of employees to deal with demand.

SBA numbers released last week show that 18,732 loans worth $3.8 billion were issued to Oregon businesses under the first round of the program’s funding. One analysis concluded that under half of Oregon’s payroll eligible for the program qualified.

Field said that the SBA doesn’t yet have data available on how loans were distributed on the county level. He also didn’t know how many businesses will be served with the new money.

When asked how the SBA would ensure that the new funds would be distributed equitably by industry, region and state, Field reiterated the administration’s strategy of working with lenders that cater to small businesses in the Pacific Northwest.

He noted that in the first round, 74% of the federal funding went to business loans of $150,000 or less.

“So we know most of the loans went to smaller firms,” he said.

  Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.