Tampa Bay area businesses getting help from COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program

Posted at 7:08 PM, Apr 10, 2020

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Tampa Bay area businesses have started submitting applications for the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.

The loan is aimed at helping employers pay their workers' salaries, 401K contributions, health care benefits and continuing to pay the business rent/mortgage during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Crossfit Rebels Gym in Clearwater is one of the businesses that recently submitted an application for the loan. Paul Chapman, a coach and general manager of the Crossfit gym is hopeful the loan will be approved.

He is used to coaching grueling crossfit workouts, but with gyms closed because of COVID-19, he’s learning new skills. Friday he stayed busy buffing the rust out of barbells, teaching online workouts and even painting the gym.

“I miss coaching our athletes so it’s going to be really awesome when we open back up,” he said with a smile.

Until then, owner Ed Farina has made a vow to continue to pay his coaches… no matter how difficult it gets or how long it takes.

“Personally, we love our team like family but professionally, we need them when we open back up,” Farina said. “They are fantastic coaches so for us to lose them and have to find others with their caliber, it would be impossible.”

Farina just applied for a new $349 billion program aimed at funneling money towards businesses and allowing them to keep paying their staff for 8 weeks.

The loan is forgivable as long as the money is spent to directly keep people employed through things like 401K, health care benefits, salary and the rent or mortgage of the business.

Yet, businesses nationwide are finding the application process confusing and frustrating. Jim Nelson at Flagship Bank on US Highway 19 in North Pinellas County is helping nearly 170 local businesses get through the application.

“It was brought out in a very quick and hasty manner so the folks from the Small Business Administration were writing the rules as we were rolling it out. It’s been like trying to do the right thing with the rules evolving,” Nelson explained.

Nelson says the process is getting smoother and easier, but he recommends that business owners work with a bank that they already have a relationship with, gather payroll and tax receipts before starting the process, and not give up hope or patience.

“You know how hard it has been to get unemployment so by keeping them employed it will relieve a lot of anxiety in our community,” he added.

Farina is still waiting for final approval on his loan…something he considers a lifeline.

“How long do we have to stay closed? That’s really the million dollar question for us. We’re holding on as much as we can,” Farina elaborated.

Former Florida State Senator and small business owner Jack Latvala of Gulf Coast Imprinting was able to seal the deal on his loan Friday. He believes the paycheck protection program will be able to help several businesses.

“Without this we wouldn’t be able to stay in business,” Latvala said. “I’ve got 8 employees, I’m able to keep all of them on the payroll so they all get a check, health benefits and I think it’s one of the smartest programs I’ve seen the government come up with... and I’ve been around the government a long time.”