Struggling Tampa business owners worry about COVID-19 disaster loan repayments

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Federal disaster loans have helped many small businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic, but the payment deferral period is soon coming to an end – and some business owners say it’s is too early.

Maria Suarez started cleaning homes in Tampa on her own in the 1990s. Today, more than two dozen people rely on her.

“I just started cleaning [by] myself. People were very happy with my work and I’m growing, growing and now we have 25 girls, Suarez said.

The Colombian-born is living the American dream, but she fears losing it.

At the height of the pandemic, Maria took out an Economic Disaster Disaster Loan (EIDL) from the US Small Business Administration.

The SBA program allowed businesses to borrow up to $2 million at an interest rate of 3.75%. Payment has been deferred until now.

“It’s hard to pay right now,” Suarez said.

Suarez is not alone. Alicia Noble, financial director of La Pequeña Colombia, is in a similar situation.

“Nobody talks about it,” Noble said.

In May 2020, the restaurant took out a $200,000 EIDL loan from the SBA. Noble is grateful, saying they would have gone bankrupt without the loan.

“It was the only thing paying rent, electricity, property, insurance,” she said.

Noble wants to repay the loan in full, but says it’s hard to do so now – and not just for her.

“I’m very engaged with Latin American businesses in this area…the majority of them have never, ever had such large loans – ever,” she said. “Now they have to start paying while the economy is still not good and no one is watching…maybe you can be the hero and put the spotlight there.”

Rising inflation, supply shortages and the Great Resignation are all creating unprecedented challenges, she says.

“When you apply for the loan, you have to put in not only your business information, but you back it up personally,” Nobles explained. “He’s also backed by the person who owns the business.”

Last year, the SBA deferred payment on these loans, giving businesses more time. 8 On Your Side asked if another postponement is possible.

In the meantime, the first installment is due within 24 months for loans made in 2020 and within 18 months for loans made in 2021.

If you are a small business owner and want to share your story, email Investigator Mahsa Saeidi at [email protected]

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