As the trade war between the US and China continues and billions of dollars in tariffs continue to weigh down the supply chains of America's small businesses, we may be reminded of another recent political decision that ended up hurting American businesses and workers most of all.
The cost of the shutdown
In the weeks following the end of the longest-ever federal government shutdown earlier this year, there was much talk of the cumulative effect that the shutdown had on the economy – a permanent loss of $3bn, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.
While the losses that private sector businesses experienced during the shutdown were real and painful for millions of Americans, the CBO's analysis did not incorporate indirect effects, such as the lack of access to government-backed loans – specifically, small business administration (SBA) loans.
SBA loans are considered the gold standard of small business loans. They are not funded by government money but dispersed by trusted partners and backed by a federal guarantee. SBA loans are important tools for small business owners who qualify: It is rare to find traditional loans with interest rates and repayment terms that beat SBA loans.
During the shutdown, the processing of SBA loan applications was forced to an indefinite stop. As days dragged into weeks, reality set in for small businesses: If you want to make investments in your business – an expansion or renovation, new hires, refinancing – you may not be able to wait.
Many did not. According to data sourced by Fundera, 11% of businesses that were ready to receive SBA loans – these were businesses that passed FICO small business scoring service (SBSS) and would fund tomorrow if they could – instead opted to get financing from a different source than the SBA during the shutdown. In all, 50% of businesses who started an SBA application with Fundera went on to submit loan applications for other products during this time period.
This is no small thing. Some business owners decided to move ahead without receiving the best funding possible. As a result, they may end up paying out more in interest rates and other fees, over a shorter repayment period.
The long-term impacts
In all, a wealth of opportunities may have been wasted, squandered or otherwise gone unrealized as contractors moved on, deals dried up and decisions were made to move ahead while small businesses missed out on more than $2bn in halted funding from the SBA.
Couple these lost opportunities to acquire affordable funds with the lost revenue from decreased demand during December and Januaryand many small businesses may now be mired in uncertainty rather than prosperity.That is because a business that qualifies for an SBA loan can stretch their debt and shrink their monthly payments. This frees up cash flow that they can put into their pockets, reinvest into their business, pay down additional debt, expand, grow, hire and ultimately have a better chance of success.
The SBA has reportedly been working hard on processing loan applications since the government reopened. But just as government contractors will not receive back pay, America's small businesses will be unable to return their less-optimal funding for SBA loans.
The cost of Chinese tariffs
A similar sort of uncertainty is playing out today thanks to tariffs on billions of dollars' worth of Chinese goods – with the potential for even more tariffs in the weeks to come, covering every sort of Chinese import. According to a poll of 1,700 small business owners, 43% of businesses said that their costs are increasing as a result of the additional 15% duty tax they may need to pay on imports. Businesses which for years cultivated trusted Chinese manufacturers will now have to pay untenable prices for their wares or seek less experienced and poorer quality suppliers in countries like Indonesia and Vietnam.
Will these tariffs last through next month? Will they last through the end of this presidential term? Will they go another four years? Business owners can take out loans or find workarounds to mitigate the hits to their bottom lines, but at the end of the day, they will still pay a ton – in tariffs, in lost business, in poorer quality – that can kill their business over the course of a few short months.
Most politicians agree that small businesses are the engine of America's economy, as they make up 99.7% of US employer firms – but long-term government shutdowns and supply chain price hikes stall that engine and force many of its components to halt entirely.