Small Business Aid Program Stretches Agency to Its Limits

The S.B.A. is trying to increase its capacity, fix its paperwork and handle more loan requests, but it is struggling to do so quickly. It has received $675 million from Congress to lift its operating budget. It has doled out millions of dollars in contracts recently to support the small business program and its economic disaster loans program, which is also being used by businesses suffering because of the virus.

In the days before the program opened, there were worries that an S.B.A. system that processes loan applications, known as E-Tran, would buckle under the increased demand. The agency’s staff worked through the weekend before the program went live trying to shore up its technical capabilities, according to two people with knowledge of their preparations.

When the program opened on Friday, the system slowed down as loan applications flowed in, with the issues persisting through the weekend. According to a Washington bank lobbyist, one of the four biggest banks reported that on Sunday night it took 72 minutes to enter one loan application and the E-Tran system crashed 13 times during the process.

Those issues continued. The system slowed down on Monday, to the point that some lenders were unable to use it. The S.B.A. took steps to try to smooth out the glitches and increase its capacity for loan applications, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The senior S.B.A. official disputed the idea that there had been a prolonged outage of the E-Tran system on Monday, saying the agency had been able to process billions of dollars in loans all day.

The S.B.A. has also been building a portal that will allow lenders that have not worked with the agency before to begin offering loans. Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who is chairman of the Senate’s small business committee, said Monday that the portal was being developed with Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing giant, and an unnamed “systems integrator.”

The official said that the portal for new lenders had gone online on Tuesday.

Not all banks are waiting for the S.B.A. to iron out the program’s kinks. One of the earliest banks to begin processing loan requests was ConnectOne Bank, a New Jersey-based lender that has already begun distributing money under the program, according to its chief executive, Frank Sorrentino.

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