PPP loan forgiveness rules make it hard for some business owners to use money

PPP loans put some workers in tough position

The new Payroll Protection Program has processed more than $500 billion in loans to help small businesses survive the coronavirus crisis, but the loans will only be forgiven if businesses spend 75% of the money on their employees within eight weeks of receiving the money. Some businesses are finding that difficult to do amid lockdowns and are planning on not spending the loan if the rules don't change.

Hairstylist Audrey Boswell was laid off when her salon closed due to the coronavirus, but after her boss received money from the PPP, she was asked to return to work.

"I'm a little bit scared, honestly. In Arkansas, salons have not actually been allowed to officially reopen yet," Boswell told CBS News political correspondent Ed O'Keefe.

She is making almost $700 a week on unemployment. "If I were to go back to work, I'd probably be lucky to get a minimum of 400," she said.

Boswell said she wants to go back to work, but she wants to be safe.

"For me to refuse to go back to work and then get kicked off unemployment. I mean, it's, it was just a double-edged sword," she said.

Out-of-work Americans like Boswell are facing some tricky math. State unemployment benefits range from a maximum of $235 a week in Mississippi to just over $450 in Arkansas to more than $800 in Massachusetts.

When Congress passed the CARES Act in March, Republicans criticized the decision to tack on an extra $600 per week to unemployment payments through the end of July, which means some workers are now making more money without a job than with one.

"If you're a barista, suddenly being on unemployment is looking pretty good," said Mary Allen Lindemann, who runs Coffee by Design in Portland, Maine, which received more than $400,000 through PPP. The program allows the company just eight weeks to meet hiring targets if they want the loan forgiven.

"We were being told 48 full-time people needed to come back and we had a stay-at-home order in place," Lindemann said. "So how exactly were we going to get 48 people back when we can't open our locations?"

Asked what she would tell Congress about PPP, Lindemann said, "We need more time."

"You can't rebuild companies in eight weeks, and for those who are not even allowed to be open ... there's no way you can rebuild a business when the state is telling you you can't be open for business," she said.

Laury Hammel, who owns six fitness centers in New England and Utah, agrees small companies are going to need more time.

"It's not like turning on a light switch. It's like pumping up a tire with a bicycle pump," Hammel said of reopening a small business like his. "So it's going to be gradual. So we need three months to be able to get back to full staffing."

In Maine, PPP is helping Lindemann bring some employees back, including Quesias Parra, who sacrificed an extra $500 a week she would have made from unemployment insurance for the security of a job.

"It was kind of sad, when I had to go back to work, but, you know, I miss working though," Parra said. "I prefer to have a secure job right now than later looking for a job."

There are proposals in the Senate to give businesses more time to qualify for loan forgiveness. But if the rules don't change, most of the business owners who spoke to CBS News said that despite serious economic challenges, they won't be able to spend all the money they were given.