Emergency federal relief funds intended to keep millions of small businesses from closing down amid the COVID-19 health crisis have run out of money, and the New York State Bar Association is calling for immediate action to rectify that.
“I appreciate that Congress acted quickly to create these relief measures, and I urge the New York Congressional Delegation to take all immediate steps necessary to provide adequate funding to fulfill the promise to our nation’s small businesses,” NYSBA President Henry M. Greenberg wrote in a letter to the state’s delegation.
In the weeks since the pandemic began, Congress allocated $7.3 billion for individuals and small businesses and some 3.8 million small business owners have made requests for disaster relief loans.
“NYSBA is the largest volunteer bar association in the country and many of our 70,000 members are small firm and solo practitioners,” Greenberg wrote. “These lawyers are under a stay-at-home order and many are struggling in the wake of the pandemic. They turned to the federal government for promised relief but instead they’ve found confusion, delays and a lack of access to emergency funds to keep people on payroll and the lights on.”
As recent media reports indicate, only a small percentage of New York’s small businesses have been approved for these loans. More than half of the members of the state bar association are solo practitioners or work at small firms, and many are finding the scarcity of funds and glitches in the system discouraging.
The Emergency Task Force for Solo and Small Firm Practitioners, which was formed at the end of March, is seeking to help small firms and answer an even more basic question — How can small firms and solo practitioners keep their doors open?
Co-chair Domenick Napoletano is a solo practitioner in Brooklyn and has attempted to apply for some of the federal and state loan programs, including the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), which is a federal loan that can provide up to $10,000 within three days. Two days after the program was announced, he submitted an application and still has not received any money three weeks later.
Another program being offered to small businesses is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a loan offered through the Small Business Administration (SBA) that is intended to help businesses keep their workforce employed during the crisis.
According to Napoletano, some banks are not yet accepting applications.
“The bank where I do my banking has not even opened the portal for the application process,” he said. “There are even banks saying they’re going to limit their programs to clients with specific types of accounts. It’s completely scattered and there is no uniformity at all.”
Confusion is not limited to the loan programs, as co-chair June Castellano of Rochester notes.
At the beginning of the crisis, members were saying that some county clerks have were not accepting acknowledgments, which are required for deeds, wills or documentary evidence. However, just in the past week, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo released Executive Order 202.14, which authorized the witnessing of documents via video conference technology provided certain criteria are met.
“As a result of EO 202.14 our members are reporting that more title companies and a county clerks office that previously hadn’t accepted them, is now accepting them,” she said.
With the confusion across the board and the speed at which executive orders are being released, Napoletano and Castellano believe that one of the task force’s most important jobs is keeping members of the state bar association informed.
“We have a subcommittee whose only focus is direct information to members,” Napoletano said. “We’re going to work in conjunction with NYSBA staff to make sure that this important information is in one central location that members can access.”