Thousands of jobs may have been saved on the Coastside as a whopping 500 local businesses received money from a federal program intended to retain workers during the pandemic.

Farms, restaurants and nonprofits are just a few of the business sectors that were bolstered by forgivable loans exceeding $150,000 each as part of the federal government’s $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program. The loans are aimed at retaining employees and can be forgiven if businesses meet certain conditions, such as keeping or rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels.

Last week the Small Business Administration released a public list of nearly 700,000 businesses that borrowed $150,000 to $10 million. Businesses that received less than $150,000 were not listed by name. The top recipients on the Coastside included Jacobs Farm/ Del Cabo, Sam’s Chowder House, Sea Crest School and area swim school La Petite Baleen, which has one location in Half Moon Bay.

La Petite Baleen CEO and President John Kolbisen said the more than $1 million loan allowed him to retain and pay medical benefits to his staff while the school was closed for 2 ½ months due to health orders and 240 of his 260 employees were furloughed. Kolbisen said while the swim school did have funds in reserve, without the loan he would not have been able to pay rent on all four of the locations throughout the Bay Area.

“It would have been a disaster,” Kolbisen said.

When the PPP loan arrived, Kolbisen said, he was able to quickly rehire staff, at least 20 at the Half Moon Bay location, which reopened two weeks ago under strict health orders. He said, although the swim school isn’t making a profit, it’s staying afloat partly thanks to support from longtime clients who paid even while they were closed. The loan meant he did not have to hesitate before rehiring employees. Kolbisen said he doesn’t expect to swing a profit for up to a year, which is highly unusual for an essential service like swim lessons. Even after the Great Recession, Kolbisen said, the demand for swim lessons was steady.

“Going from never experiencing a downturn in 40 years to being shut down was a shock, for sure,” Kolbisen said.

Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau President and CEO Krystlyn Giedt said the businesses she’s heard from were mostly pleased to have the money, and with the process. When the federal relief was first announced, she said businesses were confused about how to apply and reported trouble finding a lender.

“That was the only part people were frustrated on,” she said. “Once people got through that, they were happy to receive the funds. I have heard, since receiving the funds, it helps them retain employees.”

The Half Moon Bay Review also benefited from the federal program. The Review, through parent company Coastside News Group Inc., received $128,900 through the loan program. To date, the newspaper has used the money to avoid any staff reduction.

Whether these programs will sustain businesses in the long term, Giedt said she’s not certain. The toggle of opening and then closing again is a continuing challenge.

“A lot of businesses are being cautious,” she said.

Some businesses worry about the drawbacks of the PPP loan program. Under conditions of the loan, the money must be used within a certain timeframe and spent mostly on payroll. After a few months of near complete shutdown, states such as

California are once again rolling back their initial reopening of businesses, meaning workers who were hired back may lose employment again. There also have been allegations that minority-owned businesses were denied loans, according to several news reports.

Perhaps the biggest criticism of the program is the large slice of funding that went to corporations with massive payrolls instead of small businesses for which the loans were intended.

Many businesses report they’ll run out of money again in August, but no new round of PPP loans has been confirmed. There are other options for federal relief through the SBA.

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