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  Guest Editorial

Recovery Act Gives SBA Tools to Boost Small Business

Posted 7/9/2009
By Eric Zarnikow

Obama administration is reaching out to small business owners.

The Obama administration is taking action to make a big dent in the small business credit crunch by offering new incentives to small business borrowers and lenders through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Department of Treasury actions.

Obama administration is reaching out to small business owners.With tax incentives and steps to encourage lending, the Recovery Act recognizes that small businesses are part of the solution to getting our economy moving again. The bill's primary goals for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are jump-starting job creation, restarting lending and promoting investment in small businesses.

The Recovery Act provides entrepreneurs and lenders financial relief from the current economic crisis that will help encourage borrowing and lending to all small businesses, including startups.

For small businesses (like independent automotive service shops), the Recovery Act temporarily eliminates SBA guaranteed 7(a) and 504 loan fees and offers tax credits. For lenders, it temporarily eliminates 504 loan fees. The fee eliminations are retroactive to Feb. 17, the day the Recovery Act was signed. The SBA is developing a mechanism for refunding fees paid on loans since then.

The act also supports guarantees of up to 90 percent on most types of 7(a) loans to qualified small businesses. The temporary loan fee eliminations and 90 percent guarantee provisions will apply to approximately $8.7 billion in 7(a) loans and $3.6 billion in 504 loans. The SBA estimates this will cover lending in both programs through calendar year 2009.

In addition, the Treasury Department will commit up to $15 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds to help unfreeze the small business lending market, which will particularly benefit community banks, credit unions and other small lenders. The Treasury Department will purchase existing and new SBA-backed loans made by banks, freeing up more capital so these banks can restart SBA-backed lending to local small businesses. This is yet another step in President Obama's plan to assist small businesses during this economic crisis.

Most recently, the SBA announced an alternate size standard for the flagship 7(a) loan program. Identical to the alternate size standard in place for 504 loans, this temporary change will make more than 70,000 additional small businesses, including auto and RV dealerships, auto industry suppliers and others, eligible to apply for SBA 7(a) loans.

While the SBA staff is working hard to implement the rest of the Recovery Act's programs for small businesses, we have already begun to see positive results. The downward trend in SBA lending we were seeing prior to the president's Recovery Act press conference on March 16 has actually reversed itself, and we are now experiencing an uptick in new loans. In fact, the weekly average of SBA-backed loans approved has risen 28 percent nationally since March 16. There is still a long way to go, but we are definitely headed in a positive direction.

Over the next few weeks, details on the remaining Recovery Act provisions will be announced. There are a lot of moving parts, but our aim is to put these programs in place as quickly and effectively as we can so they have the broadest and most rapid effect possible on small business credit markets.

The act provides the SBA with $730 million in total funding. This includes $375 million to cover the costs of temporarily eliminating loan fees and raising guarantee limits on some loans; extra funding for SBA-backed microlenders; and $255 million for a new loan program to help viable small businesses with immediate economic hardship make payments on existing loans.

The Recovery Act also authorizes the SBA to use its 504 program to refinance existing loans for fixed assets as part of a business expansion project; to use its guarantee authority to establish a secondary market for bank loans made under the 504 loan program; and to make loans to broker-dealers who buy SBA-backed loans from lenders and pool them for sale to investors on the secondary loan market.

Also under the act, small businesses that need surety bonds to compete for construction and service contracts can qualify for SBA-backed surety bonds of up to $5 million, more than double the previous $2 million maximum.

Another element of the Recovery Act that is already in place is SBA's Microloan program. These nonprofit, community-based lenders make loans of up to $35,000 to small businesses and startups. Because this program is already operating, you can go to a microlender today and apply for a loan.

The Act funds $50 million in new loans by these microlenders, plus $24 million to help pay for the technical assistance and training they provide to loan applicants.

We have already seen significant interest in a new program, America's Recovery Capital, or ARC Stabilization Loans, by lenders and small businesses alike. Once in place, this temporary new program will offer deferred-payment loans of up to $35,000 to viable small businesses that need help making payments on an existing, qualifying loan for up to six months. These loans will be 100 percent guaranteed by the SBA. Repayment would not have to begin until 12 months after the loan is fully disbursed, giving small businesses time to refocus their business plans to succeed in the long run.

The bill helps SBA-licensed small business investment companies by raising the level of SBA funding they can receive to make venture capital investments in small businesses. It also raises the percentage of their investments that must be made in smaller businesses from 20 percent to 25 percent.

Finally, I want to emphasize that all of the SBA's existing programs are open for business - we are backing loans and providing technical assistance, training and contract help to entrepreneurs every day.

In short, the SBA is working overtime to get these provisions in place to begin knocking down the obstacles that are keeping credit from flowing to small business entrepreneurs, whose proven ability to create new jobs and commerce is second to none, and in whose hands the next phase of our economic recovery rests.

Eric Zarnikow Eric Zarnikow is assistant administrator for Capital Access at the Small Business Administration. He may be reached at eric.zarnikow@sba.gov.

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