Issues abound for California small-business coronavirus relief grant applicants
Thousands of struggling small business owners have been unable to complete online applications for a slice of $500 million in grants the state of California will distribute to companies, nonprofits and sole proprietors impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the online portal for application opened last Wednesday, many business owners have complained online about being unable to create a login or provide the required documents to complete their applications. "Absolute nightmare interface," noted one business owner on a Reddit thread detailing application issues. "Epic fail," wrote another.
The technical issues forced the state of California, and its lending intermediary partner Lendistry, to delay the original Jan. 8 deadline for the first round of applicants to Jan. 13.
"The program, which officially opened December 30, experienced high traffic — receiving thousands of completed applications," California's Office of the Small Business Advocate explained in a news release on Monday. "However, due to the high traffic, some businesses may have had trouble accessing the application. Adjustments to the program's website have been made, and the application period has been extended to ensure that all interested applicants have the opportunity to apply."
The grant program was announced by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature in November. If approved, applicants will receive grants in amounts ranging between $5,000 and $25,000, depending on the business's size.
State grants will be distributed by a network of "Community Development Financial Institutions," the state announced. Still, all applications for all Community Development Financial Institutions are being handled online by Lendistry, a Los Angeles-based small business and commercial real estate lender.
"We are bringing the full force of our technology, expertise and relationships with partner [Community Development Financial Institutions] and community organizations to bear on [California's Office of the Small Business Advocate's] landmark commitment to California's small businesses," Everett K. Sands, Lendistry's founder and CEO, explained in a press release.
From the first day, many faced technical issues applying on the Lendistry website. If applicants were able to create a login, many were unable to complete their application. Many encountered repeated error messages or the website crashing.
"I cannot log in to upload the documents," noted one business owner on Reddit. "This is ridiculous."
Over the weekend, Lendistry acknowledged on their login page that they disabled file uploads for the site to allow all businesses to create a login and be eligible to apply. On Tuesday, their website was updated to note that applicants will be able to start uploading supporting documents Jan. 6 through the end of the application period Jan. 13 at 11:59 p.m.
"Please note that you will be notified by email when to log in to complete your unfinished application or upload requested documents," Lendistry posted on its Twitter feed. They added, "As a reminder, this is not a first-come, first-serve application process or rolling approval process — all eligible applicants will be considered for the grant at the close of Round 1 on January 13th, 2021 at 11:59 pm and not before."
California's Office of the Small Business Advocate said that despite the deadline delay, they will still start notifying successful applicants starting Jan. 15. The state is also planning to have a second funding round of grants, but the exact dates they will be available have yet to be determined.
Due to a large number of applications, not every business will actually receive the grant money. The program's website says decisions will take into account geographic distribution, help for industry sectors most affected by the pandemic, and businesses majority-owned by women, minorities and veterans or located in low-income and rural communities.
SFGATE reached out to Lendistry for comment but did not hear back by time of publication.