The much-discussed small business loan program designed to keep people employed during the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t easy to apply for, according to local business owners. and spoke with more than eight business owners who applied for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) over the past week. All said applying was cumbersome and the process was flawed.

As of Wednesday afternoon, about half of the businesses had been approved for PPP loans, which are forgivable under certain conditions, but most had not yet received the money. The money is intended to cover payroll, rent, mortgage interest, utilities, and other key expenses.

The program was authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

SBA data from last week showed that more than 69,000 Pennsylvania businesses were approved for $15.7 billion out of the $349 billion set aside for the national PPP loan program.

Tim James, the owner of the Langhorne Coffee House and a consultant for other small businesses, said the PPP loans are “critical” for small businesses. He said delays could case irreparable harm for small businesses that are struggling to pay staff and bills during the pandemic and mitigation efforts.

“It’s a huge lifeline,” he said. “Getting it is the difference between surviving and not.”

Patrick Ferris, the owner of Bensalem-based PURO-TEC Property Restoration, said he applied for the PPP loan as soon as he could in March. As of Monday, he had only recently learned his business was approved but was still waiting for the funds.

“I was on top of the PPP loan the second I heard about it on the news. I knew we had to be ready for this,” he said, adding previous a state loan he applied for had already used all their funding.

Ferris and his wife kept up with the latest but their bank, BB&T, was not immediately ready to accept applications once the program opened.

“It was very frustrating for you not to be able to apply as I was seeing [U.S. Treasury Steven] Mnuchin posting about how many applications were received,” Ferris explained.

Ferris’ wife, who had woken up to tend to their baby early one Saturday morning last month, noticed BB&T had opened up their application process, which he later learned was flawed and had to be resubmitted.

Much of the information Ferris found out was through watching social media and talking to other BB&T customers. He called the entire process “totally unorganized and frustrating.”

While he felt the process could have been handled better by BB&T, he said the bank appeared to do a better job than some other large banks.

The business owner, who had to cut some jobs as the bulk of work dried up or had to stop, said the funds will help his business survive. One of his concerns was not getting the PPP loan and coming out of the pandemic behind all of his competitors.

“Is it enough? Time will tell, but it definitely is going to help,” he said.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, PURO-TEC Property Restoration had just settled in their grove, found a great team that was highly trained, and was operating as a "well-oiled machine,” Ferris said.

James, the Langhorne Coffee House owner, said he reached out to several large national banks he deals with when PPP loans were announced but found the process cumbersome.

Dealing with numerous businesses as a consultant and talking to other business people, he said everyone has their own PPP loan story.

With business down due to the pandemic, James said the loans can be the difference between someone closing down for good or being able to survive.

On getting approved for PPP loans, both Ferris and James said being persistent was key.

“We were relentless – emailing, contacting the bank, and on social media,” Ferris said.

“It took a lot of effort,” James said. “We just had to be dogged, and we just had to keep calling and calling.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday evening that dozens of large, publicly-traded firms received PPP loans, totaling more than $500 million. Of the dozens of firms, Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse have drawn some attention.

James reacted to seeing large, well-capitalized corporations receive the funds meant for small businesses as a “sin.”

Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Middletown, called out the Treasury Department’s handling of the PPP loan program.

“The Department of the Treasury? must immediately fix the PPP to benefit Main Street, not Wall Street. Round 1 of the PPP missed its target. Banks were receiving applications not just from mom-and-pop small businesses that depend on foot traffic and are barely solvent, like small restaurants, hardware stores, and plumbers, whom the PPP was specifically designed to help. Banks were also receiving applications from businesses that are not small, do not rely on foot traffic, and are not insolvent, like hedge funds and brokerage businesses, who in some cases received as much as $10M in forgivable loans. This is money that is literally being taken away from the very small businesses Congress intended to help, small businesses who have been forced to lay off workers due to insufficient cash flow,” he said in a statement.

The congressman, who voted for the legislation that created the PPP loans, called for the Treasury Department to “establish clear requirements that banks prioritize insolvent coffee shop owners over solvent hedge fund owners.”

Fitzpatrick said the SBA guidelines “only required an attestation that business was ‘negatively impacted.'”

Many businesses were unable to get funding through the PPP loan program when it ran out of money. A nearly $500 billion replenishment program would add more money to fulfill additional loans.

The SBA in a statement celebrated their work to open the program so quickly and the fact lenders of all sizes took part.

“The PPP provided funds to a wide variety of industries in all sectors of the economy, including construction, manufacturing, food and hospitality services, health care, agriculture, and retail, among many others. This demonstrates the broad diversity of PPP and its support for American workers across the board,” SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said in a joint statement provided to this news organization.

The PPP loan process has taught coffee shop owner James one thing – he plans to switch from a big national bank to a community bank once things return to some normalcy.