After a rocky start, the federal government's $349 billion business bailout program continues to misfire, causing headaches for many business owners who can't find a lender to handle their application.
The biggest concern is an announcement by Wells Fargo & Co. that it was immediately cutting off applications to the program because it had already received requests totaling $10 billion by Sunday night, which "will fill the company's capacity to lend under the program."
Other lenders, including U.S. Bank, are also drawing complaints for focusing their efforts on existing customers, requiring them to have certain types of business accounts to qualify for immediate help.
"That puts small-business owners at a big disadvantage," said Mandy Wroolie, owner of Minisota Play Cafe in Champlin.
Wroolie tried to apply for the program Friday, but her credit union told her it was no longer making loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is overseeing the program. She is now trying to find a new lender. She hopes to borrow about $8,000 to keep her business going.
"It is really frustrating," Wroolie said. "I heard that if you weren't in line by 9 a.m. Friday, you're out of luck. I'm concerned that there isn't going to be any money left."
Lenders acknowledged the anxiety, but they predicted it will be weeks before the initial funding runs out, and they predicted that Congress will allocate more money if needed.
"We're all a little panicky right now because of the laws of supply and demand — it's kind of like toilet paper at the moment," said David Reiling, CEO of Sunrise Banks in St. Paul. "But take a little breath. We are going to work through it."
Reiling said his bank, which can lend a maximum of about $250 million through the program because of the government's capital requirements, said he has already received hundreds of requests totaling about $300 million.
"Some of those applications will wash out," said Reiling, noting that some companies submitted multiple applications at competing financial institutions to improve their chances of success.
Though Wells Fargo is big enough to lend out an additional $384 billion, the company said it is unable to do so because of an asset cap imposed by the Federal Reserve as punishment for prior misconduct.
"Since I arrived at the company, I have been clear that we will direct all resources necessary to do the work required by our regulators, and we are in the process of doing so," Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf said in a statement. "We are committed to helping our customers during these unprecedented and challenging times, but are restricted in our ability to serve as many customers as we would like under the PPP."
Many longtime customers of Wells Fargo said they felt betrayed by the bank's move, saying they were reassured by their personal bankers last week that the company would move quickly to process their applications after failing to move on the paperwork when the program began on Friday.
"We're screwed — we really are," said Mike Mulligan, owner of 12 Jimmy John's restaurants in the Twin Cities. "They told me I would be at the front of the line. It turns out we weren't. It's a travesty."
Mulligan said he needs about $800,000 to survive the downturn, noting his sales are off 80% and he has been forced to furlough more than half of his 220 employees.
"We needed to get this problem solved last week, let alone this week," Mulligan said. "Now I don't know what we're going to do."
Stony Johnson, who owns a dockside restaurant in Virginia, Minn., said he was counting on Wells Fargo to come through with a $50,000 loan to keep his business afloat.
"They gave us every indication that this was going to be an easy process," Johnson said. "I am done with Wells Fargo. I'm going to open a $25,000 account with a local bank and see if they will get involved with these loans. As of now they're not. But I don't have many options."
Small-business owners have been stymied by other major banks. Paul McIntosh, who owns a packaging company in Minneapolis, said U.S. Bank told him it couldn't take his application yet because it can only process loans for businesses owned by a single individual. McIntosh co-owns the company with his brother.
"They said they will eventually get us an application, but I am not confident there will be any money left by the time they get to us," McIntosh said. "There is only so much in the pot, and it's first-come, first-served."
U.S. Bank spokesman Evan Lapiska said the bank expects to expand its reach soon. So far, Lapiska said, U.S. Bank has received more than 29,000 applications with requests for more than $3.8 billion in loans, with 95% of those requests totaling $500,000 or less.
"In the coming days, we look to have the ability to begin accepting applications from multiowner businesses and nonprofits, as well all other eligible businesses with an existing U.S. Bank relationship," Lapiska said. "We recognize this is a stressful time and remain committed to communicating with our customers throughout this process."
Not everybody has been left in a lurch. Tim Milner, who owns an industrial painting company in Farmington, said he expects to close his loan and receive his $550,000 on Tuesday. He said he went to a small community lender, Deerwood Bank. He said the loan will allow him to avoid sharply cutting back on hours for his 70 employees.
"We submitted the application three times last week because the SBA kept changing the application," Milner said. "But our banker worked over the weekend and he called me at home on Sunday to tell me the SBA had approved the loan."