By Chris Tye

CHICAGO (CBS) — When the economy was bottoming out last spring billions of Paycheck Protection Program dollars helped thousands of companies survive. In the last week the Small Business Administration released a full list of recipients. Some of them say the process helped, but they would not do it again if offered.

Companies with hundreds of workers drew millions, some $10 million, in federal aid. It’s money that starts as a loan, but is likely to end as a grant not to be paid back. However, those squeaking by in this brutal year at the bottom of the payout list have some unique stories to share.

Aurora security and event company Andy Frain got $10 million. A Joliet school bus holding company got another $10 million.

But CBS 2 went looking for those at the very bottom of the assistance list.

“It was kind of painful,” said John Yost, owner of Chicago percussion company Rhythm Revolution.

Six to 10 hours on PPP paperwork resulted in just $232 in loans.

“My cell phone bills are higher than that,” he said.

He considers himself fortunate that his company is not his primary source of income.

“I would never survive,” he said. “I have two kids and a wife, and we would not be able to live.”

Lisa Marsh was a little higher on the PPP list.

“Having the PPP at a time when we felt like everything was crashing in, really was a lifeline,” she said.

Under her Aurora based Ms. P’s Gluten Free brand, her bakery sales often hinge on in-store demos.

“When the stores said no more demos we were like, ‘Eeeh! OK. What next?,'” she said.

Next for her was a 90% drop in sales.

“I just about gave up,” she said.

She navigated the tricky waters of PPP application, lading $5,000 in assistance.

“Having something else thrown at you, even if it’s a lifeline, it’s challenging,” she said.

They are both working to turn loan dollars into grants that don’t require payback, and both wonder about how companies with the deepest pockets pulled the largest loan amounts.

“The people who have, getting much more, and the people who don’t have getting nothing, and the government shelling out billions of dollars,” said Yost.

“I was super frustrated after the first round came out,” said Marsh.

“It’s very frustrating and disheartening to see,” said Yost.

The companies that got the big money are the ones with the large employee headcount. The Paycheck Protection Program is intended for them. Those on the lower end of the PPP money don’t typically have full time W-2 employees.

Even though they are not sure they will survive the long haul yet, these small business owners tell CBS 2 they have learned how to get creative in these lean months. Yost, didn’t remember if the money ever arrived, but once he checked he said he used the money to buy a better digital camera, allowing him to do online classes and promote more creatively on social media, which he calls teaching an old dog new tricks.

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