Pa. nonprofit that helps small businesses survive pandemic reaches a milestone

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Pennsylvania-based nonprofit that provides forgivable loans to small businesses to help them survive the pandemic is celebrating a milestone.

The PA 30 Day Fund provides $3,000 forgivable loans to small businesses hit hard by the pandemic with a zero red tape application process.

Business owners do not need to show tax returns or have a relationship with the banker. Instead, they only submit a simple application online and in some cases, even a video application is enough.

“We’re using our judgement to pick the people, not some superficial criteria,” said Jeff Brown, who owns Brown’s Super Stores and is one of the founders of the fund.

Along with co-founders Jeff Bartos, Richard Phillips, and Roger Braunfeld, the fund was started in May with the goal of saving as many small businesses in Pennsylvania as possible.

Brown noted that some businesses are doing well in the pandemic, but others — especially small minority-owned businesses that do not have access to bankers and other resources — have been hit especially hard by the closures.

“What people do not realize is that a lot of people mortgaged their homes, borrowed from their friends, and they didn’t do anything wrong, and the government forced them to close their business,” said Brown, who calls many of the recipients of the forgivable loans personally.

“Some of the businesses may be teetering but the entrepreneurs are so exceptional,” he said.

The group has raised $3.1 million mostly thanks to donations from larger businesses. So far, they have helped about 800 small businesses, but by the end of year, Brown said they want to have helped 1,000 businesses across all 67 Pennsylvania counties.

“A lot of these firms have been able to spend the money on rent or mortgage and utilities,” said Steven Scott Bradley, chair of the board for the African-American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. “I am so glad they got us involved.”

Bradley sits on the committee of business leaders who meet twice a week to go through applications for the funding. He said so far, 54% of the funding has gone to women-owned businesses, and 45% of the funding has gone to businesses owned by minorities.

“It’s a very inclusive, broad process,” explained Bradley, “it’s giving these businesses the momentum to press forward.”

“I went and put the money on all my utilities — the gas, the electric, the water, the cable,” said Derek Lee, owner of D&J Costumes and Entertainment.

His business is all about parties and entertainment, and they did OK during the summer, but their phone stopped ringing around Thanksgiving when outdoor gatherings became impractical.

The money came at a critical time — last June — before Lee got any other funding.

“When you go without a check for a long time, any bit of funding helps,” he said.

Lee noted that Brown called him personally.

“He told me, 'I know who you are from your work in the community and we are here to help you out,'” recalled Lee. “It was really amazing and I am grateful.”

Lee has since secured other federal funding that he hopes will hold him until his business can fully operate again.

“We cannot wait until these numbers go down and we can start supplying party and entertainment needs again,” he said.

As for the future of the PA 30 Day Fund, Brown said they plan to continue into 2021 with a focus on next steps.

“There’s a good chance there will be another round of PPP that will help a number of businesses, but not the really small ones that we work with,” said Brown. “So now, we are thinking about how we can help them with their recovery.”

Brown said all of the loans will be forgiven — the funding was disbursed as a loan to defer tax payments for already stretched business owners.

“We wanted to give them time to plan to pay the tax,” he added.

The fund still has about $300,000 that they hope to dole out by the end of the year. Businesses can apply or donate at pa30dayfund.com.