Local Restaurateurs Help Craft National Loan Forgiveness Program, Billions Of Dollars Flow To Colorado

April 20, 2020

By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) -The U.S. Small Business Administration said Thursday the Paycheck Protection Program would stop accepting applications for the $349 billion program. However, in an exclusive interview with CBS4’s Shaun Boyd, Vice President Mike Pence said Congress is close to making a deal.

“I heard on Air Force Two on the way here that we are very close to an agreement to expand that funding,” said Pence after he arrived in Colorado Springs Saturday for the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation.

The $470 bill to replenish the PPP could go to the Senate Tuesday for a vote. In a tweet Sunday, Sen. Cory Gardner said the program has helped more than 40,000 small businesses in Colorado with $7.3 billion in assistance.

“It’s unacceptable to let this fund sit empty any longer,” Gardner stated. “Congress must set aside the partisan rancor and put American workers first.”

Two Denver restauranteurs played a key role in shaping the Paycheck Protection Program. Juan Padro and Katie O’Shea own eight restaurants that employ 400 people in Colorado.

“Our industry is a lot of vulnerable who work for us, a lot of single moms, students and people who take public transportation,” said Padro.

When the COVID-19 closure came down, Padro and O’Shea stepped up. They partnered with other restaurants, using donations to mass produce meals for those in need.

They consolidated locations, offered take-out and even created meal kits with instructions from their master chef to make money. Still, they had to lay off 300 workers.

“I think the day that we had to lay everyone off was the hardest day of my life,” says O’Shea.

Padro and O’Shea tried consolidating restaurants, transitioning to take-out and selling meal kits with video instructions from a master chef, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet.

“Our priority number one is the people. Our industry employs a lot of vulnerable people, single moms, students,” said Padro.

They’ve continued to feed the workers and provide health insurance while, at the same time, working to bring them back on the job. Padro had heard of a loan forgiveness program Congress was working on, but it came with restrictions that meant many restaurant owners wouldn’t be eligible.

A lifelong Democrat, Padro reached out to Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican and Colorado’s junior senator, for help.

“Cory was the one willing to talk. We spent hours and hours and hours every day,” says Padro.

Padro said Gardner made sure restaurants were not left out.

“They really have made a difference, nationally, the kind of policies that are going to save the economy,” said Gardner of Padro and O’Shea. “We’re trying to tear down every barrier to keep small businesses doors open. This is not a time for red tape.”

Sen. Cory Gardner (credit: CBS)Gardner said this is just the beginning. The Senator is also working with Padro on removing restrictions to disaster loans.

“Were trying to tear down every barrier that exists to keep a small business on its feet and its doors open,” said Gardner.

The Paycheck Protection Program allows small businesses to borrow money specifically to meet payroll for eight weeks. If they keep their workers on the job, the loan is forgiven.

The Small Business Administration had one week to implement the program after Congress approved it.

“We’ve been working around the clock,” says Regional Director Dan Nordberg.

Nordberg says, nationally, they processed as many loans the first week as they typically do in an entire year. They had to revamp the online application portal to handle the volume.

“We do have a new gateway for those applications that has been very much streamlined,” said Nordberg.

Padro and O’Shea were on a call with Gardner when the bill passed and were among the first to submit their application. O’Shea said they received the loan money within 48 hours and have already hired back most of their laid-off workers.

“Everyone just wants to hug, and you’re like, ‘Oh wait you can’t hug,’ but it’s so nice to see you,” said O’Shea.

For now, the workers are staying busy mass producing meals for health care workers, the homeless and others in need with the help of donors and workers from several other restaurants. Padro and O’Shea continue to work with Gardner on additional help for restaurants and other small businesses in hopes of keeping them in business until the worst of the COVID-19 crisis passes.

“We bet on each other, I think we’re winning,” said Padro.

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