Small Businesses Hold Off Spending While Waiting For Aid

(USA TODAY)-- Small businesses have put hiring, supply buying and real estate expansion on hold as they wait out the vote on a small-business-aid bill that stalled in the Senate earlier this summer.

The much-debated legislation offers tax breaks and waived loan fees. But it also comes with more divisive components, such as a $30 billion fund that would help community banks give loans to small businesses. Opponents say the fund would be a mini version of the often-criticized TARP large-bank bailout program.

Many small businesses had hoped the legislation would pass the Senate by the end of July. With two weeks left until Congress reconvenes, those firms are in a holding pattern.

"I'm still waiting for Congress to sign off on the bill," says Amarjit Kaur, who runs a convenience store and gas station in Wood Village, Ore. She leases her property but has a chance to buy it. With the waived-fee provision, Kaur says she could save about $35,000 on her pending loan.

Kaur's is among about 1,000 other small businesses that "have their bank papers all done and will be funded in the days - moments - after the bill passes," says U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills.

In Kaur's case, she's concerned that the property seller is going to get antsy as she waits out the political decision-makers. "I keep asking my seller if he can give me a couple more weeks," she says.

Many other businesses have paused expansion as they wait for the outcome of the bill, says Bob Coleman, publisher of the Coleman Report, which provides information on small-business lending.

Some businesses can save thousands of dollars on the waived loan-fee provision alone, and they are thinking, " 'I might as well hold off and save the money,' " he says.

What's in the bill:

•An increase on government guarantees to as much as 90% on some of the most popular loans. That would mean a little less pressure on banks if a company defaults, because the government would insure a larger percentage of the loan, says Coleman. With current guarantees topping out at 75%, "there is a bit more exposure" for banks, he says.

•Community banks with assets of $10 billion or less would be able to tap into the $30 billion fund when making small-business loans. About 8,000 banks would be eligible.

•Small businesses would get about $18 billion in tax breaks, such as larger write-offs on capital equipment investments, and get credits for new hires.

•The SBA would be able to increase the maximum for certain loans to $5 million from $2 million.