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COVID-19 pandemic leaves Arkansas small businesses in limbo

"We're falling in this gray area where we're not getting unemployment; we're not getting any disaster relief loans," James Brassfield said.

EAST END, Ark. — As the U.S. Senate prepares to vote on additional aid for small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of Arkansas small business owners are left waiting for assistance.

James Brassfield, owner of Catfish Jimmy's Tattoo Shop in East End, is one of them.

"It's very trying for a lot of people, and no we're not all in the same boat we're all in different boats.

Brassfield said business quickly took a turn within days of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Arkansas.

"March 13, which is Friday the 13th, should've been one of my busiest days," he said. "It was not. I only had a couple of customers. Then everybody started canceling appointments."

After closing up shop one week later, Brassfield tried to file for unemployment.

"They called me back and let me know I was ineligible," he said.

Brassfield said he then applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Almost one month after filing that application, the closest thing he's received to an answer is an email that said in part: "SBA is unable to accept new applications at this time for the EIDL COVID-19 related assistance program (including EIDL Advances) based on available appropriations funding."

The email went on to say "applicants who have already submitted their applications will continue to be processed on a first-come, first-served basis."

Brassfield, who is selling drawings and paintings as a source of temporary income, said help cannot come soon enough.

"We're falling in this gray area where we're not getting unemployment; we're not getting any disaster relief loans. It's definitely a challenge," he said.

It's a challenge he is facing with help from his family, friends, and faith.

"The community has really helped me out a lot," Brassfield said. "People from church -- they're making sure we have food. God and my faith have really kept me through it."

Brassfield is eagerly awaiting the day he can reopen and plans to take extra precautions when that happens.

"It's a rough time for everyone," he said. "I pray that we can get through it and get back to work as soon as possible and I thank the community for looking out for us."

PPP Funding

The Arkansas Bankers Association is calling on Congress to move for swift passage of additional funding for the "Paycheck Protection Program," which ran out last week.

To determine how many of those loans are in the pipeline, ABA surveyed its members on applications pending or in process and the total dollar amount of the pending loans.

Based on a survey of 41 Arkansas community banks, ABA found 12,995 Total PPP loan applications are pending or in process. Those applications account for $1,104,098,801 in limbo.

“Without further Congressional funding, small businesses and their employees will continue to suffer economic damage," ABA President/CEO Lorrie Trogden said in a news release. "The banking industry stands by small businesses across Arkansas; banks have thousands of pending applications to process once new funding is signed into law.”

President Trump said a vote on a small business relief program could come as early as Tuesday, as lawmakers close in on a deal.

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