TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Federal disaster loans helped many small businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic, but the payment deferral period is coming to an end soon – and some business owners say it’s too soon.

Maria Suarez started cleaning homes in Tampa, alone, in the 1990s. Now, more than two dozen people rely on her.

“I just started to clean [by] myself. The people were very happy with my job and I grow, grow and now, we have 25 girls,” Suarez said.

The native Colombian is living the American dream, but she fears she may lose it.

At the height of the pandemic Maria took out an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The SBA’s program allowed companies to borrow up to $2 million at 3.75% interest. Payment was deferred until now.

“It’s difficult to pay right now,” Suarez said.

Suarez is not alone. Alicia Noble, the CFO at La Pequeña Colombia, is in a similar situation.

“Nobody is talking about this,” Noble said.

In May of 2020, the restaurant took out a $200,000 EIDL loan from the SBA. Noble is grateful for it, saying they would have gone under without the loan.

“It was the only thing that paid rent, electricity, goods, insurance,” she said.

Noble wants to pay the loan back in full, but says it’s a struggle to do so now – and not just for her.

“I’m very engaged with Latino businesses in this area… the majority of them never, ever had loans that big – ever,” she said. “Now, they’ve got to start paying while the economy is still not good and nobody is looking at them… maybe you can be the hero and put a spotlight out there.”

Rising inflation, supply shortages and the great resignation are all creating unprecedented challenges, she says.

“When you ask for the loan, you have to put not just your business information, but you back it up personally,” Nobles explained. “It’s backed by the person who owns the business as well.”

Last year, the SBA deferred payment on these loans, giving businesses more time. 8 On Your Side has asked if another deferment is possible.

Meanwhile, the first payment is due within 24 months for loans made in 2020 and 18 months for loans made in 2021.

If you’re a small business owner and you’d like to share your story, email Investigator Mahsa Saeidi at MSaeidi@WFLA.com.