Freelancers have been shut out of PPP funding

Apr 21, 2020

Just four days after the Paycheck Protection Program became available to freelancers and self-employed people, the Small Business Administration announced the program was out of money.

The PPP was meant to be a lifeline to keep small business owners afloat, keep staff employed, and cover some operating expenses. For freelancers, the forgivable loan could be used to replace self-employment income for eight weeks, up to a total of $15,385.

Applications to the program for businesses with less than 500 employees opened on April 3, but individuals were barred from submitting their applications for an additional week. In that time, a number of large, well-funded companies used loopholes to take money from the program that should have gone to struggling independent workers and small businesses in genuine need. (Major restaurant groups Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris, each with multimillion-dollar valuations, took $10 million and $20 million in PPP funds, respectively.)

As a result, while freelancers struggled to find SBA-approved lenders who would accept their applications — because of the demand, most large banks only processed PPP applications from those with whom they had an established business relationship — the program’s funds were rapidly running out.

Freelancers now find themselves in the same position they have been in since the coronavirus pandemic began: scared, struggling, and without government aid, while big business receives federal bailouts. In most states, systems are still not in place for freelancers to receive unemployment insurance. It’s clear that much more money must be put into PPP now, and priority needs to be given to self-employed applicants who were essentially shut out of the first round of funding.

Just as importantly, the SBA must make it easier for individuals to apply for these loans, and prohibit banks from restricting access to its existing customers. Many freelancers do not have separate business banking accounts — this cannot be held against them now as they struggle to keep their businesses afloat.

That's why Freelancers Union and a group of independent film and media organizations sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to demand that new funding for the PPP put freelancers first. (Read the full text of the letter here.) In order to provide real relief to those who need it most, we are urging the government to provide the following:

  1. Earmark funding specifically for self-employed and independent contractors, who are underbanked and underserved by government relief programs
  2. 50% of loans be set aside and guaranteed for minority sole proprietors
  3. Require SBA lenders to process all applications, banning rules that require existing relationships with lending institutions
  4. Open the next round of funding first to independent workers and self-employed individuals
  5. Require SBA to publish data on the size of the businesses receiving loans, including a breakout of loans awarded to self-employed and independent contractors

It’s urgent that we make our voices heard. Contact your local representative today and demand that PPP be re-funded, and that independent workers be put at the top of the list. Here is a sample script you can use.

Dear [NAME],
Just days after PPP applications were opened to freelancers, the program ran out of funds, while big businesses exploited the system and took millions. Hundreds of thousands of independent workers like myself need assistance to keep their businesses afloat during this economic crisis. Please expand the PPP today, and ensure freelancers are given priority to receive the federal aid this program is meant to provide.

More than one-third of the American workforce are freelancers. It’s time politicians answered to us.

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