STATEWIDE — The state has maxed out its emergency bridge loan program, a month after the governor allocated $50 million in funding.

Florida’s emergency bridge loans are meant to bridge the gap between the time a major catastrophe hits, like the coronavirus, and when a business has secured longer-term recovery resources.

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The program had approved 1,000 interest-free loans as of Tuesday, according to state officials. These loans are maxed at $50,000, except in special cases where up to $100,000 may be allocated. 

The Department of Economic Opportunity received more than 38,000 applications since March 17, when the governor activated the loan program.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D — District 47) asked in a statement Tuesday: “Is this a joke? Floridians have gone for weeks without any relief, and small businesses — who are the backbone of our economy — have spent hours applying for this state program, a program that Governor Ron DeSantis boasted as a relief for the state’s small businesses.”

Eskamani is petitioning the governor to pump an additional $450 million into the bridge loan program so more small businesses can benefit. 

Meanwhile, the Florida Small Business Development Center is offering certified consultants and disaster specialists at no-cost to help the 37,000 applicants who did not receive the bridge loan “gain access and secure the vital federal disaster resources available to them,” said CEO Michael W. Myhre.

“Due to the Congress' swift action and expedient implementation of immediate and long-term federal disaster assistance for our state’s small businesses, the businesses that applied for and were unable to be funded through the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program have options,” said Myhre.

Small businesses struggle to stay afloat

Florida chain restaurant Giovanni's, which has served the Orlando area for nearly three decades, was not one of the nearly 1,000 businesses to get a loan.

"It's sad," Giovanni's owner Jozef Nikollaj says. "When you walk in a dining room you see all the chairs propped up."

Business on average between his five locations is down about 50 percent. The same percentage applies to the people he has been able to employ during this COVID-19 pandemic. Nikollaj has tried  get a small business loan, but says the process can make your head spin.

“It just seems real hard to apply for it," Nikollaj said. "It’s not easy to navigate”

The Seminole County Chamber of Commerce is encouraging local businesses join forces with information.

“We have talked to a lot of our members about what their experiences is with the state and federal programs," explained Seminole County Chamber of Commerce President Justin Brodeur. "Where they have had success and where they may be getting frustrated, we can help connect to help each other.”

What businesses like Giovanni’s need now is a piece of the pie to keep more than oven doors open.

"To pay my staff, to pay the rent, electric, we pay over $12,000 in rent over here,” Nikollaj said.

The state does have $3-4 billion in reserves, but how that money can be used or spent has not yet been discussed.​