Small business owners wait ages for promised support

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Small business owners wait ages for promised support

Small businesses just aren’t feeling the love.

While the government has made all sorts of promises and has been throwing around big numbers, on the ground, those in desperate need of immediate assistance haven’t noticed the support.

One businessman who spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday said that he applied for a 10 million won ($8,100) loan from the government 10 days ago.

He is still waiting.

The 62-year-old man, who had a career at a conglomerate before retiring and starting his own business in 2016, said that his business had been growing steadily until the coronavirus outbreak.

Now he spends his days checking the computer and making calls to see if any progress has been made on the funding.

Like most small business owners these days, he is in a precarious position.

In the first quarter, sales at his company dropped 70 percent on year.

He makes 40 to 50 calls a day in his battle for financial support from the government, but he never gets through because the line is always busy. Everyday he checks the status of his application, but all he sees on the screen is an “in progress” message.

On Tuesday, a call finally came. He quickly asked whether his application had gone through, only to be told that he needed to submit additional documents.

He has already submitted more than 20 pages of documentation.

The businessman also made hundreds of calls to the tax office to ask for an extension. The line was always busy, so he went there in person.

“I was surprised when they were not on the phone when I visited,” he said.

He said there are too many different support measures, and the process is too complicated for business owners to get real support. Even as a former executive of a major company, he finds the process challenging.

To apply for the job security fund program, the company must close down and employees have to take a leave of absence or shortened working hours.

The shorter working hours for employees means lower wages. It is difficult to decide who gets fired and who stays.

“In the name of support, the government has made things complicated in many ways,” he said.

It is even difficult to identify each support measure introduced by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups, the Korea Credit Guarantee Fund, the Korea Technology Finance Corporation, or Kotec, and local government agencies.

And competition is fierce for all the programs.

Because it is so complicated, the businessman is bothered by middlemen everyday, offering to help him navigate the process.

He suggests that rather than offering small companies and the self-employed funding, the government should simply exempt businesses from social insurance program contributions and electricity bills instead of making them apply for a reduction in them.

After meetings with employees, the businessman decided to layoff one of his nine employees. A young employee volunteered to take the hit for the company, and the boss promised to reinstate him when business conditions improve enough to make that possible.

The businessman has already cut his salary by 30 percent, and other employees have agreed to take cuts.

He said that he will do whatever it takes to make sure his company survives, even if that means staying up all night.

BY LEE SOO-KI [kim.yeonah@joongang.co.kr]

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