Small business owners describe the federal aid measures as a “hot mess”.


Juliann and Kirk Francis, owners of the Washington, D.C. cookie chain Captain Cookie, were already hiring for their busy spring season when the Corona virus beaten. Now the two are trying to save their business, but say that they are being hampered by the government’s federal aid, which they call a “hot mess”.

Like millions of other small businesses in the United States, the eight-year-old was blinded by the pandemic. When Washington closed, they had to reduce their staff – who work in three stationary locations and three food trucks – from around 45 workers to just 11. Both Captain Cookie and Captain Cookie and Taste maker, an event hall and an incubator kitchen, which the couple also own, have under the Paycheck Protection Program and other federal and local emergency programs. Juliann and Kirk Francis spoke to CBS MoneyWatch about their efforts to receive federal aid. This interview was edited for the sake of length and clarity.

Juliann and Kirk Francis, the owners of Captain Cookie from Washington, DC, at one of the locations in the cookie chain.

Courtesy of Captain Cookie

What happened to your business when the corona virus broke out?

Juliann: We usually hire and train like crazy at this time of the year. This is a very seasonal business, so now we would have a whole bunch of characters that came in for the first time. I was just reviewing these applicants when all of these things went up in the air. I remember calling my general manager and just saying, “Okay, all the settings are on hold, everything is on hold. Plug our existing staff into the current gaps we have and just stop To recruit employees. “

We were there within a week or two of hiring a whole new staff [a new store under construction in D.C.] I mean, that’s probably a dozen jobs right where we said, just overnight, “These jobs don’t happen. We don’t know when they’re going to happen. We don’t know if they’re going.” happen. “

Church: To give you a certain context on the truck side, trucks usually carry out about three events per truck per day, an average of 20 events per week. And these events could be worth between $ 500 and $ 1,500. Now maybe we do two events a week. And that’s $ 500 or $ 300. You are the naked, I mean the bare minimum.

You started a GoFundMe campaign for some of your employees because they had problems registering for unemployment. Tell me about it.

Juliann: It was this first round of people that we took off on vacation very quickly to get them to the top because at that point we had no idea if we would be able to keep people going at all. It is still a daily question that we ask ourselves.

Of the first people I took on leave, none was successfully processed by the system. Now I can see that the system is working – it is running very slowly – because I have received the verification requests. So that’s a monthly income for which they weren’t paid. And there has been no unemployment.

We all have the idea that there is a social safety net. When people lose hours or lose a job, they register unemployment and are fine. But that’s not what happens.

As a business owner, that must be incredibly frustrating.

Juliann: So frustrating. I mean, they’re literally people who can’t feed their families, are they? We’ll look at that. It’s the only thing in this whole process that I’ve lost sleep. What happens to them if I can’t keep them on the payroll? And if that turns out to be the case, now I’m putting people in an unemployment system that I know is overcrowded and can’t deal with them.

Church: We constantly follow the current guidelines from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and local health departments about how we can do business safely. Because of course it is our top priority not to contribute to the spread. Then how can we continue to do business based on these guidelines to employ as many people as possible?

Winning a win came out the window weeks and weeks ago, and we’re trying to cover our payroll. And try to manage or postpone our other fixed costs like utilities, rent, credits, etc. So if we can pay our employees and approach payroll, it’s a win in the new landscape.

Juliann: But not to be unclear, we’re totally eating it right now. I mean burn cash.

Have you applied for a small business loan or a credit deferral under the paycheck protection program? And if so, how does it work?

Juliann: I think I have now applied for six different things – grants and loans – and nothing, nothing happened and nothing happened. It’s a hot mess. It is terrible. And it’s a time game – can our cash reserves hold until the government steps in? What has to happen Because based on politics and legislation, they have done the right things that should happen.

The implementation, which takes so long, is a problem since the average food industry business has less than a month [of operating funds]. We may be in a slightly better position, but it’s still not a good situation.

Church: We hope to build another new business. Instead, I took my entire wish list for the year and tore it open. If we survive, it will be the success of the year.

They also run a local company called Tastemakers, an event hall, and an incubator kitchen. What happens there

Kirk: I also applied for everything I can – the DC micro cost grants, the Paycheck Protection Program loan, the SBA disaster relief loan, the SBA debt relief for existing 7 (a) loans – for all of that. It was mostly a dumpster fire when it comes to interacting directly with lenders or the SBA.

The SBA loan officer I spoke to said he would start drinking in a few hours because “the one who can do anything is having lunch and we can’t answer any questions, and we have no idea how we’re going to do it all. “

When I called SBA, I was on call number 679. No wonder – a government that has frozen federal attitudes and gutted many departments does not currently have enough bureaucracy to support this. It takes one.

You fill out the application the second it comes out because you know that funds are limited and it is probably about who gets the money first. And then it goes into a hole and you can’t hear anything back and can’t check it because all the phones are ringing and you can’t call back and update.

So I have no idea what happened to the application for disaster relief. I have no idea what happened to the Paycheck Protection loan. I have no idea what happened to the DC Micro Grant.

Tastemakers has 75 members who are small grocery companies and how their membership fees pay the bills for Tastemakers. We have quite high fixed costs because rent and utilities make up a large part of our operating costs.

Then we have our ongoing building loan and accessories and are now on a smaller payroll. And I can’t really get away from it. I can reduce the wages a little bit, but nobody does without additional costs. Nobody waives the rent because he actually doesn’t pay it. The best you can hope for may be a delay.

What do you think other small business owners should know about access to some of these emergency funding programs?

Juliann: Small businesses are considered very risky. As a company, we are fortunate to have been founded in such a way that we can maintain a credit relationship with Bank of America. We have a deposit relationship with them. These are requirements [to get a PPP loan.]

People hear, “Oh, there are aid loans. Oh, well. All small businesses will get a government check.” No. N-O. Not the case. I can tell you that many small businesses don’t.