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Cobb Chamber Chairman John Loud addressed business leaders this week during the chamber's webinar on navigating the second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans.

The Cobb County Chamber of Commerce hosted a nuts and bolts discussion this week on how local businesses can take advantage of the latest coronavirus relief package.

Billed as a “Business Recovery Webinar,” Chamber CEO and President Sharon Mason and Chairman John Loud led a panel discussion featuring attorneys, accountants, and bankers to help small businesses navigate the Paycheck Protection Program and other federal relief funds.

Mason announced at the top of the program that over 800 local business leaders participated in the webinar. She said the chamber’s priority was to act as a support network for businesses that may not have the resources or knowledge to navigate the relief programs on their own.

“We want to continue helping you with the recovery, providing you the resources, being your champion, (and) being your advocate at every level,” Mason said.

Much of the discussion was dedicated to outlining some of the crucial differences in this round of PPP loans versus those doled out in the spring of 2020. To illustrate those changes, the chamber brought on business leaders such as Clark Hungerford, president of Vinings Bank; Jeff Fucito of the Marietta-based accounting firm Mauldin and Jenkins, and Drew Tonsmeire of the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center.

“With some of the changes in the program, not everybody that qualified last time will qualify for this,” said Hungerford, who estimated that the program would become active early next week.

Some of those changes are new restrictions on which businesses are eligible for the program. But crucially, the new restrictions only apply to businesses that already received PPP loans during the first round of relief.

Businesses seeking a second round of funds must now demonstrate a 25% or greater drop in revenue in one quarter of 2020, as compared with the same quarter in 2019, to be eligible. Additionally, those loans are now limited to businesses with 300 employees or less.

Other provisions will allow businesses to expand the scope of expenditures they can use PPP loans to pay for.

Among those are overhead operating expenses such as software and HR costs, and money spent to protect workers from COVID-19, such as on personal protective equipment. The new loans can also be used to cover uninsured property damage costs from “public disturbances.”

Businesses will have greater flexibility in other areas as well. Borrowers may now set the period in which they spend their loan to between eight and 24 weeks, whereas the first round of loans were required to be spent within eight.

According to a USA Today analysis, the December stimulus package dedicates $325 billion of its $920 billion total price tag to small business relief. Of that, $284 billion will be channeled directly into PPP funds.

That’s a significant drop from the CARES Act, signed into law in April, which allocated nearly $350 billion to the PPP. But the initial program was criticized by some federal lawmakers, who argued that funds intended for struggling businesses ended up in the wrong hands.

In September, the House Select Subcommittee found that “a lack of oversight and accountability from the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration may have led to billions of dollars being diverted to fraud, waste, and abuse, rather than reaching small businesses truly in need.”

On Friday, the Small Business Administration announced the PPP will officially reopen on Jan. 11 for first-time borrowers. Second-time borrowers will be able to access the program on Jan. 13. The Small Business Administration has said that businesses seeking a loan should contact their lender, bank, or credit union.

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