SBA increases federal support for natural disaster survivors 

Small businesses and disaster survivors will see increased federal support following a federally declared natural disaster. 

Citing an increased frequency of natural disasters, U.S. Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said the agency finalized a rule to increase support, effective for all disasters declared on or after July 31. 

“The Biden-Harris Administration has prioritized maximizing resources for disaster survivors so that they can successfully recover and build resilience to the effects of climate change that have led to more frequent and costly natural disasters,” Guzman said. 

 “The SBA’s disaster loan program rule modifications will ensure more flexible and affordable disaster loans are available for small businesses, nonprofits, renters, and homeowners,” Guzman added. 

Bailey DeVries, associate administrator for Investment and Innovation and acting associate administrator for Capital Access, said, “For the first time in nearly 30 years, accounting for decades of inflation and rising construction costs, SBA is more than doubling the caps for its home disaster loan program”. 

 Increasing the loan limits ensures that communities have access to sufficient funding to help them rebuild homes, replace personal property, and reopen businesses when disasters strike. DeVries said.   

“SBA’s bold new actions continue to reshape our disaster enterprise by unleashing more capital to help devastated communities rebuild and expanding avenues to mitigate against future damage in the face of increasingly frequent and catastrophic disasters,” said Fransisco Sanchez Jr., associate administrator, SBA’s Office of Disaster Recovery and Resilience.  

“While bringing the whole of SBA to the effort and inextricably tying recovery to resilience, SBA’s team is also boosting its presence in the field to lead from the ground up and ensure we are meeting the priorities of each community,” Sanchez said. 

 In 2022, Guzman announced that SBA would waive the interest rate for the first year and extend the initial payment deferment period automatically to 12 months for disasters declared on or after Sept. 21, 2022, through Sept. 30, 2023. 

This new rule makes the change permanent and means SBA will continue to provide relief to disaster loan borrowers by waiving interest and payments for the first year for all disaster loans beyond Sept. 30. 

Veteran small business owners to benefit from $4.1 million in new SBA funding

Existing and aspiring veteran small business owners will benefit from a new funding opportunity announced by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and aimed at awarding up to $400,000 to up to 12 entities to provide training and counseling as a Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC). 

Entities eligible to receive funding include private organizations, colleges and universities, private sector firms, nonprofit organizations, and state, local, or tribal governmental agencies. 

Applications must be submitted via grants.gov by 11:50 p.m. EST on Wednesday, November 23, 2022. Applications submitted late or via other media, including SBA’s website, will be rejected. Information sessions on this VBOC funding opportunity will be hosted by SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development via Microsoft Teams link or call-in number 202-765-1264 (access code: 265 542 768#). Sessions are scheduled for the following days and times: 

Tuesday, October 25: 1-2 p.m. EDT 

Monday, November 7: 4-5 p.m. EDT 

Wednesday, November 16: 1-2 p.m. EST 

The SBA announcement comes two weeks ahead of Nations Veterans Small Business Week, October 31-November 4, which spotlights the Biden-Harris Administration’s support of the entrepreneurial journey of U.S. service members, veterans, and their families. 

“As the focus on serving underserved communities becomes increasingly important, OVBD (Office of Veterans Business Development) expects the demand for VBOCs will continue to grow,” said Larry Stubblefield, Associate Administrator for the SBA’s OVBD. “This expansion will grow the VBOC program from 22 to 34 locations nationwide and assist in supporting veteran small business owners in all U.S. states and territories.” 

Grant funding allows awardees to provide transitioning service members and military spouses training through the Boots to Business entrepreneurship program m, part of the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program. Comprehensive business assessments, counseling, financial skill development, mentoring services, and technical assistance will also be provided to transitioning service members, Reserve and National Guard members, and military spouses interested in growing or starting a small business. 

Pennsylvania is one of 14 states or areas eligible to apply for a part of the $4.1 million this program is making available for Fiscal Year 2023. 

“The additional locations aim to enhance the experience for veteran small business owners by reducing appointment wait times, increasing local presence, providing additional local training opportunities meeting the needs of Boots to Business participants, and ensuring that all VBOCs have the necessary resources to perform required counseling and training functions,” Stubblefield said. 

The base project period for each award begins May 1, 2023, and extends for 12 months, with four 12-month option periods. For more information regarding this funding opportunity, please visit www.grants.gov and search “SB-OVVB-23-001”. Questions concerning VBOC funding can be directed to Tangela Liddell at [email protected]. Those experiencing issues with Grants.gov can call the Grants.gov Support Line (1-800-518-4726) or email [email protected]. 

Biden praises Mack, union workers and Pennsylvania’s manufacturing success

President Joe Biden today lauded Mack Truck, the United Auto Workers 677 and the Lehigh Valley for their efforts in growing American manufacturing during a visit to the Lower Macungie Mack plant.

Biden told the crowd of more than 100 workers, dignitaries and residents that a bipartisan agreement on his infrastructure bill was reached by a Senate committee and will advance to the Senate floor later this week.

The American Jobs Plan that Biden is pushing, will create millions of good jobs, rebuild the country’s infrastructure and position the United States to out-compete China, according the White House fact sheet.

Mack President Martin Weissburg said Biden’s message of building and strengthening American manufacturing and building an employee base aligns with what Mack is doing in the Lehigh Valley. “Right now, we have open positions we are recruiting for. We will add up to 400 people” to the already 2,500 person workforce.

Drawing cheers from the crowd, Biden said unions built the middle class and he is a champion for them. Since taking office, Biden told the crowd, the U.S. has gained 600,000 jobs a month, each month. “That is the fastest growing (job growth) on record,” he said. “We have laid the foundation for a long-term boom, not just short-term growth.

“When I put my hand on that Bible, I made a commitment to turn the tides to enable people to earn a living and take care of their parents,” he said, adding the last administration grew big business and enabled corporations to pay less taxes each year.

“Given half chance, the American people have never, never, never ever let this country down.”

Walt Smith, president of UAW Local 677, called Biden’s visit the highlight of his 44-year career at Mack, and said the union and the company have been “working really hard to grow the company.”

Don Cunningham, president of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., said while Mack is an internationally known brand, “The Lehigh Valley is a manufacturing center. Manufacturing is our second biggest sector so for him (Biden) to choose the Lehigh Valley to deliver his message shows higher levels of people recognize us.”

Part of Biden’s American Jobs Plan, is to secure critical supply chains so companies that manufacture here can get the parts they need here, alleviating the shortages the country has seen over the past year. “To sum it up in two words, ‘Buy American’,” Biden said.

“The people that said we shouldn’t rescue the auto industry are the same ones that don’t buy American,” he said. “The strength is here, right here in folks like you.”

American power is not military power, he said, it is the people. “That’s why people follow us.”

PPP’s extension gave borrowers needed time to apply, funds expected to dry up before end date

An extension to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) from March to May allowed more time for small firms and businesses looking to draw from the program for a second time to benefit from it. But without additional funds, the program is expected to dry up soon.

The newest wave of PPP loans began early this year and was signed into law by President Trump in December.

The third round of the program allowed businesses to apply for a second PPP loan if they had 300 or fewer employees, demonstrated a drop in revenue for one calendar quarter compared to the previous year, and showed they used all of their first-round money.

Late last February, the Biden administration revised PPP small business loans to reach smaller, minority-owned firms. However, the federal business loan program was scheduled to end just a month after businesses had a chance to cash in on the significant increase in funds they would receive.

It also gave businesses who were unable to apply for the first round of loans a chance to do so, but because of an eight-week hold on applying for a second round, many of those businesses would have been unable to apply for their second round by the March end date.

Biden signed the PPP Extension Act of 2021 in late March, allowing borrowers to continue to apply for PPP loans until May 31. At the time the act was signed, the Small Business Administration (SBA) had already approved nearly $196 billion out of the $290 billion in funds set aside for the program.

Between businesses applying for their second loan at a max of $2 million and small businesses now borrowing against their gross income rather than their net profit thanks to the new PPP rules approved by the Biden administration, the program is expected to be out of money weeks before the new deadline.

“For the last month and a half the burn rate has been $10 billion a week,” said David Patti, director of communications and marketing at Chester County-based Customers Bank. “The guy who could qualify for $1,000 now qualified for $10,000. That unleashed pent-up demand and there are now a lot more people in line.”

As of April 26, the SBA reported having $18.5 billion left in its PPP loan pool, according to Patti.

Despite the swiftly dwindling funds, the extension has proven to be beneficial for borrowers newly eligible for the program, said Jeramy Culler, vice president and business banking manager at F&M Trust in Chambersburg.

“The changes were made late in this round of the program, and the additional time allows borrowers who were previously ineligible to compile their information and submit applications,” said Culler. “It also provides additional time for those borrowers who didn’t receive a first-draw loan until 2021 to meet the use of funds criteria for a second-round loan. I expect there to be continued interest from borrowers until the money is exhausted or May 31, whichever comes first.”

Banks also had more time and resources to manage the loan applications coming in from borrowers since the first wave of PPP was already behind them.

Last year, lenders had two weeks to prepare for the bevy of borrowers that would knock on their doors. This year, banks were able to take advantage of their experience from 2020, said Matthew Long, chief operating officer of Ephrata National Bank.

“That was in the height of COVID. We weren’t sure what to do from an employment perspective,” he said. “We did a very manual labor-intensive process to do it quickly. As we looked at this further and moved into the second wave, we took advantage of tech because we had more time on our side to reevaluate.”

Recently the SBA launched a new round of Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance to provide $5 billion in additional assistance to small businesses and nonprofit organizations impacted by the pandemic.

This and other programs such as the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund are part of more targeted aid for businesses compared to the broader PPP, which could help lift up businesses hit hardest by the past year, said Patti.

“The Biden administration thinks it’s time to focus on hotels, restaurants and others and that’s all fair to now say ‘Let’s get help to the people who have lingering problems or problems unique to their sector and be much more tailored to their policy,’” he said.

Levine confirmed as nation’s assistant secretary of health

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaking with the press. – PHOTO/PROVIDED

Former Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday as the Biden Administration’s assistant secretary of health.

Levine is the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation.

Levine, a professor of pediatrics and psychology, served as Pennsylvania physician general from 2015 to 2017 and as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health from 2017 to 2021.

During her tenure as secretary, Levine led the state in its fight against the opioid epidemic and helped guide the state’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry. Following the spread of COVID-19 into the state, she also led Pennsylvania’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When nominating Levine in January, President Joe Biden called Levine a “Deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”

The Senate’s final vote on Wednesday was 52-48. Republican Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey voted against the confirmation, citing the impact the pandemic had on Pennsylvania’s seniors.

“In Pennsylvania, the pandemic struck seniors in nursing homes disproportionately hard compared to other states,” Toomey said in a statement on Wednesday. “This was due in part to poor decisions and oversight by Dr. Levine and the Wolf administration.”

Levine’s handling of the pandemic was a hotly debated topic during her federal confirmation hearing where she was questioned about discrepancies in Pennsylvania’s public reports on nursing home COVID-19 deaths and cases

In a statement on Levine’s confirmation, Wolf said that Pennsylvania owes a great deal to Levine’s expertise and leadership.

“Dr. Levine was a valued member of my administration and served the people of Pennsylvania with wisdom, courage and dedication as Physician General and Secretary of Health,” said Wolf. “I was proud to serve alongside her. Dr. Levine’s commitment to protecting the public health and safety is unmatched, and I am grateful for her tireless work during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Governor Tom Wolf nominates Alison Beam for Secretary of Health

Gov. Tom Wolf nominated Alison Beam, his current deputy chief of staff, to take over the role of Secretary of Health. PHOTO PROVIDED.

Gov. Tom Wolf nominated his deputy chief of staff, Alison Beam, to replace Dr. Rachel Levine as state Health Secretary after President Joe Biden chose Levine to be the assistant secretary of health for the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Beam, the Wolf Administration’s deputy chief of staff since 2019, is set to assume Levine’s former role on Saturday. In an announcement  Friday, Wolf called Beam a talented public servant who brings years of experience in health care policy and implementation to the office.

“Alison knows that a strong, widely available, and successful vaccination strategy is the path out of the pains of this pandemic,” he said. “Her foremost and immediate focus will be on the strategic distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, making sure Pennsylvania receives as many doses as possible from the federal government, and that the Pennsylvania Department of Health coordinates with hospitals, health centers, county and local governments, and pharmacy partners to make this vaccine as widely available as possible to Pennsylvanians everywhere.”

As Deputy Chief of Staff, Beam coordinated initiatives and resources across state departments, helped coordinate the administration’s COVID-19 pandemic response and assisted in the creation of Pennie, the state’s health insurance marketplace.

Beam previously served as chief of staff to the Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner from 2017 to 2019.

Wendy Braund was named interim acting physician general by Gov. Tom Wolf. PHOTO PROVIDED.

While Beam is replacing Levine as secretary of health, she will not be taking on Levine’s other role as physician general.

Dr. Wendy Braund, COVID-19 response director for the state Department of Health, will replace Levine as interim acting physician general, also on Saturday.

Braund was previously director of the center for public health practice, associate dean for practice and a professor of health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Braund has been an integral part of the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response efforts, according to Wolf, who said that her experience will be an asset in her new role.

“Wendy brings years of public health expertise and a commitment to improving public health practice in Pennsylvania to the role of interim acting physician general,” he said.

Dr. Rachel Levine: ‘It has truly been an honor to serve the people of Pennsylvania’

Pennsylvania Health Secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, who will be leaving office to take a position in President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, said she is proud of the work she has done during her six years of state service.

Biden announced plans on Tuesday to nominate Levine to serve as Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Levine joined Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration in 2015 as the state’s physician general and was nominated to Acting Secretary of Health by Wolf in 2017.

“Since I began state service in 2015, I have been laser focused on building a healthy Pennsylvania for all and I am proud of the work we have done at the Department of Health during my tenure,” she said in a statement.

In her statement, Levine expressed pride in her role to combat the opioid epidemic, fight diseases such as HIV and Hep C, address health equity and the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve Pennsylvanians, and all Americans, as part of the Biden Administration if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed to this position,” she said.

Following the announcement of Levine’s nomination, Wolf tweeted on Tuesday that Levine will be missed, adding that she will be a “tremendous leader at the HHS.”

“Dr. Levine has been a wise, calm, and dedicated partner during this pandemic and I couldn’t be prouder of the tireless work she’s done to serve Pennsylvanians,” he wrote.

Wolf said he plans to make an announcement regarding Levine’s replacement later this week.

In her own statement on Tuesday, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said Levine’s work as a public servant will help the country as it continues to fight the pandemic.

“Dr. Rachel Levine is a remarkable public servant with the knowledge and experience to help us contain this pandemic, and protect and improve the health and well-being of the American people,” Harris wrote. “President-elect Biden and I look forward to working with her to meet the unprecedented challenges facing Americans and rebuild our country in a way that lifts everyone up.”

Levine would be the first transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Adrian Shanker, executive director for the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, said while she will make history with her Senate confirmation, Levine will also make a difference in the lives of “LGBTQ Americans and all Americans.”

“Dr. Rachel Levine’s leadership in Harrisburg has saved countless lives from both the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Shanker wrote. “She is a dedicated public servant, a public health expert, and a compassionate leader who is well-prepared to go to Washington to improve public health for the American people.”