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Bank of America customers trying to apply for their piece of the $350 billion small business bailout were appalled to learn the bank was restricting loans to businesses who'd borrowed previously - despite claiming otherwise.

Outraged customers discovered on Friday that the massive financial institution is unilaterally denying loans through the Paycheck Protection Program - the small business bailout passed as part of last month's coronavirus economic stimulus - to any business that hasn't borrowed from Bank of America previously.

While the bank's CEO Brian Moynihan told CNBC it was merely prioritizing existing business loan customers, the policy posted on its website contradicted that claim, revealing that a prerequisite for applying to the scheme was a "small business lending relationship, inclusive of credit card," that existed prior to February 15. Bank of America was the first of the 'big banks' to begin accepting applications - and, as of Friday morning, the only one, though the program's website was supposed to go live at midnight on Thursday.

Social media was filled with outraged reports from customers, some of whom said their relationship with the bank goes back years.

Some pointed out they were literally being punished for running a debt-free business and not requiring loans in the past.

Others chalked it up to a long-term pattern of "greed and crookedness" at the bank.


President Donald Trump seemed unaware of the issue, however, praising Bank of America on Twitter.
Moynihan also told CNBC that the bank had already received 10,000 loan applications within an hour of the website going live. Small businesses shut out of Bank of America's portal are concerned that by the time its competitors have their websites up and running - Wells Fargo has already acknowledged its own portal won't be ready on Friday at all - the money will all be gone. The widespread delays appear to be due to the Treasury waiting until hours before the program was scheduled to go live to deliver much-needed guidance to participating lenders on how to accept and process applications.

In the week leading up to the Paycheck Protection Program's debut, banks warned that the terms dictated by the Trump administration, requiring that lenders vet all applicants and conduct terrorism and money-laundering screenings, would make it impossible to approve the expected volume of loans in the few months allotted as the application period.

While some institutions have threatened not to participate at all, others merely pushed for a guarantee from the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration, who are administering the loans, that they will not be held responsible for any applicants misrepresenting their qualifications.

The coronavirus crisis and related lockdowns keeping most of the American population indoors have utterly devastated the nation's economy, forcing thousands of businesses to close their doors and leaving millions out of work. In the last two weeks, nearly 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment, overwhelming states' benefits websites and exceeding the number who were laid off during the 2008 financial crisis.