Small Businesses Demand Expansion Bill After Big Companies Received Bulk of Federal Aid

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By WBBM Newsradio 780 AM & 105.9 FM

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Small business owners across the country are furious that big businesses are the beneficiaries of the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program, which ran out of money this week, and they are demanding that Congress pass an extension without strings.  

Both Democrats and Republicans are onboard with an extension, but it's held up by the Democrats' insistence that struggling hospitals be included. The hospitals are losing millions of dollars because there are no elective surgeries and far fewer doctor visits.

Some small business owners are incensed that big businesses, like large chain restaurants, have received millions of financial support while they were shut out of the program.  

Nicole Bissonnette, the chef-owner of Fishcamp Oyster Bar and Kitchen at the harbor in Michigan City, is among the many who learned in a form letter from Chase that she’s not getting a loan.

“They say they’re for small business and the first ones, $30 million goes out for Potbelly and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse," Bissonette told WBBM. 

She's questioning her relationship with her bank — and she's not alone. On social media, some banks have been hammered, including Chase

 Bissonnette said her business is down at least 80% and she’s trying to stay afloat.

“The people that keep America going are the small business owners, like myself," she said. "We’re the ones that are on the ground, working hard, having relationships, supporting the community, giving meals to the local shelters."

She said what angers her the most about the PPP program and application process is that big banks have taken care of big businesses and left the small businesses to the curb.

"When you look and see that Ruth’s Chris received $20 million, $10 million for each subsidiary, big bankers and big attorneys found a loophole in what was supposed to be distributed for small business," she said. "And the CEO makes $3 million, the CFO makes $6 million — it’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Congressman Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Chicago representing Illinois's 5th District, acknowledged there are problems with the PPP, calling it a frustrating program.

 "This package was put together very quickly, out of sheer necessity," Quigley said. "It wasn’t a stimulus package, it was a survival package. We recognize the gaps, we recognize what still has to happen.”

Asked whether small businesses, like independent restaurants, can expect some relief, he said he sees some daylight coming for them. But it's not clear when.

"This is a public health crisis, first and foremost," he said. "This isn’t an economic downturn caused by anything other than the fact that we’re facing a pandemic.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is fighting Trump on withholding funds from the World Health Organization, said in an interview with MSNBC she sees the loopholes in the PPE program and wants more funds to come through for them — but not without funds for the healthcare workers.

"We want to have more money for small businesses, the entrepreneurial spirit of America is so important but it is also important for us to have more funds for those on the frontlines," Pelosi said.

Like Quigley, she hopes that there can be a bipartisan agreement soon on the relief so both sides can benefit. 

Quigley said it's possible that about 10% of small businesses that need help applied for the program and hopes to give financial support to those on the frontlines, too. 

"We hope to extend the program," he said. "The front lines of this are our hospitals. They need the resources."