AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Unemployment insurance claims in Augusta are up 778%. Economic experts at Augusta University say that’s not too alarming. Compared to other Georgia cities and towns, the Garden City is doing a little better. 

Dr. Richard Franza, Dean of the James M. Hull College of Businesses said, “Our estimate of our unemployment rate in the Augusta area right now is about 7.5%.”

The local leisure and hospitality industry, retail, even the healthcare industry, are being negatively impacted the most by COVID-19.

“Particularly like in dental offices. A lot of dental offices have closed because of this,” said Dr. Franza.

Sue Parr, President, and CEO of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce said, “These are bootstrap businesses. They’re veteran-owned businesses. They’re women-owned businesses. They’re retailers. They’re B to B, B to C and while we haven’t had a lot of relief in the pipeline, someone still  needs to be speaking up for these very small businesses.”

“Last week, the Augusta Commission voted to fund the local program to support local small businesses. The guidelines for the program are under review by the city’s attorney and will be announced shortly,” explained Mayor Davis.

Jay Forrester, the Regional President of South State Bank, said the Paycheck Protection Program or PPP is finding success. 

“Certainly it had some challenges early on with round one and round two but the funds are flowing. In this market, I know there’s been several hundred million dollars loaned out amongst the banks and credit unions as well so I know everyone’s been working extremely hard,” said Forrester.

A PPP loan is a one percent loan over two years. As long as you use 75% of the loan for payroll, payments are deferred for the first six months and the loan is forgivable. To learn more about the requirements click or tap here.

Ashley Bell, the Small Businesses Administration (SBA) Regional Administrator and Entrepreneurship Policy Advisor for the White House told us, “If you have your money and your PPP application with a large bank and haven’t heard spoken with someone personally at the bank at this point, I advise you to go to a smaller bank that is accepting new clients.”

As for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, the SBA is not taking in any new applicants. They are catching up with the five million they already have.

“We’re working on it. I think it’s going to move a lot faster now. SBA disaster office is a separate organization that works closely with FEMA and that office will not have a heavy incoming that we can make sure we can process more applications more quickly, so you should be hearing from them very soon,” said Bell.

Mayor Davis will host these weekly webinars until May 21. Friday, May 1, the mayor will have a press conference to update everyone on how the city is handling COVID-19.