SALEM — The little symbol known as the ampersand turned out to be a big problem for one local business trying to stay afloat during the pandemic.
A&J King Artisan Bakers of Salem said its application for a federal relief loan was held up for seven weeks because of a missing ampersand, otherwise known as '&'.
"It's bureaucracy in a nutshell," said Andy King, who co-owns the business with his wife, Jackie.
King was not alone in his ordeal. Congressman Seth Moulton's office said several local businesses have had trouble getting their forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program due to typos or other problems with their applications.
Last month, the American Institute of CPAs sent a letter to the U.S. Small Business Administration, which oversees the program, saying that "tens of thousands" of legitimate applications had been denied due to additional checks put in place to counter potential fraudulent applicants.
Andy King said his problem stemmed from the fact that the application they filed for the first round of PPP loans last year did not match up with their application for the second round in January. King said his banker spotted the problem — one application used an ampersand in A&J King while the other spelled out 'and,' causing the process to stall because the two did not match.
King said his banker tried to get into the system to make the change but was locked out.
The situation finally got resolved after King reached out to Moulton's office and the media and wrote about his problem on Instagram. Some of his loyal customers even complained on his behalf. King said he learned Thursday that his application had been approved, although he hadn't yet received the loan.
"This is something that could have been resolved in a matter of minutes and it took weeks," he said.
King declined to disclose the amount of his loan, other than to say it's in the under-$500,000 category. He said he's glad his situation is resolved but is worried about other small businesses that might not have the resources to seek help like he did. He also said he's fortunate his landlords allowed him to be late on his rent because he was focused on paying his employees and local vendors.
"I'm wondering how many businesses actually failed because of the archaic system," he said.
Moulton's office confirmed the details of A&J King's problem and said it has fielded complaints from several other businesses having trouble with PPP loans and the separate Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. One nonprofit organization had its loan held up because it had changed executive directors between the first and second rounds of the PPP program, causing the system to flag its application.
The Small Business Administration said last month that it is taking steps to improve the system, including allowing lenders to directly certify the eligibility of borrowers.
Moulton's office said it has helped local businesses secure $1.4 million in loans they were having trouble accessing. They urged anyone in need of assistance to call the office at 978-531-1669.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.