Millions of people and countless small businesses are struggling to make ends meet amid the COVID-19 economic downturn.
In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands have begun to file for loans available through the Small Business Administration.
Among them is the "Payroll Protection Program" loan, which opened up to independent contractors and the self-employed last week through their respective banks and is 75% forgivable.
“It’s a nightmare, I feel like I’m constantly hitting a brick wall wherever I turn,” independent contractor Mark Casner said. “The first branch manager I spoke to at Wells Fargo told me flat out that I have no idea what I’m talking about, she doesn’t have time to deal with me and hung up the phone on me."
Full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it impacts you
Casner said he’s struggled in recent days to apply due to road blocks and stipulations put in place by his bank. According to Casner, Wells Fargo told him he had to have a commercial account set up prior to Feb. 15 before later telling him he could apply if he set one up before April 15.
“I’ve since opened the account, gone onto the portal and there is nowhere for me to apply,” Casner said.
As of Monday, he said he was unable to apply and that he knew of many other out of work independent contractors in a similar position.
“I think he has identified a legitimate hole in the program,” SMU Cox School of Business entrepreneurship professor John Terry said.
According to Terry, banks have the discretion to prioritize who gets a loan first, and people and businesses with existing commercial relationships are likely to be first in line. To make matters more complicated, Terry said banks have largely been overwhelmed by the volume of loan applications they have seen in recent weeks.
“Everyone is learning how to process these loans and push them through,” Terry said.
But Casner, who is short on patience and sympathy, said he worried he would have to dip into his kids college funds if he didn't get help soon.
“I don’t care how overwhelmed they are, they don’t need to make their problem my problem and keep in mind these are the banks we bailed out and now that it is our turn to get a little bit of help they are hanging up the phone on us,” Casner said.
Wells Fargo issued the following statement Monday.
"The online portal allowing customers to express interest in obtaining a loan with Wells Fargo through the U.S. SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was reopened. To be eligible, customers must have a Wells Fargo Business checking account as of Feb. 15, 2020, be enrolled in business online banking or have Commercial Electronic Office (CEO) access and meet all U.S. SBA program requirements. Wells Fargo will then provide regular updates and notify them when they can begin an application for a PPP loan. We are committed to helping as many small businesses as possible given the realities of both this unprecedented situation and the tremendous interest in the PPP.”