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Congress approves $310 billion more into program to help small businesses

UPDATED: Thu., April 23, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, accompanied by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., left, and House Small Business Committee Chair Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., right, signs the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, after it passed the House on Capitol Hill, Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Washington. (Andrew Harnik / AP)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, accompanied by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., left, and House Small Business Committee Chair Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., right, signs the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, after it passed the House on Capitol Hill, Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Washington. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

Congress approved another $310 billion in relief for small businesses Thursday with new guidelines to ensure that small banks and businesses get a share of the program to help them retain employees during the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the new $310 billion allocation, about $30 billion was reserved for banks with $10 billion or less in assets. Another $30 billion of the total amount was set aside for banks with $50 billion or less in assets, said Greg Deckard, president and CEO of State Bank Northwest of Spokane.

While President Donald Trump is expected to quickly sign the legislation, bankers can’t do anything but process applications until the U.S. Small Business Administration opens up its portal so that business owners can start receiving the coveted loan-approval numbers from the Payroll Protection Program, or PPP.

“We are processing (applications) right and left,” Deckard said. “We were able to take our existing customers the first round. Now we are seeing a lot of applicants that were stranded by their bigger banks and they are applying with us.”

The SBA also issued new guidelines Thursday clearly aimed at companies like restaurant chains Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Potbelly Sandwich Shop that received loans under the PPP. The guidelines imply that unless a company can prove it was truly eligible for a loan, the money should be returned by May 7.

Earlier this week, an Associated Press investigation documented how dozens of publicly listed companies collectively received hundreds of millions of dollars of loans from the program’s first round. According to data compiled and analyzed by the AP, through Wednesday at least 147 publicly traded companies disclosed receiving $555 million since the program opened April 3. Some had market values well over $100 million. Many had executives who were paid millions each year.

After a swift public backlash, several companies have announced they’re returning their loans, including the New York-based burger chain Shake Shack, which got a $10 million loan, and Kura Sushi, which is based in Irvine, California, and which got nearly $6 million. Florida-based Ruth’s Chris also announced it is returning its $20 million in loans, according to news reports.

But Deckard said there’s a catch: That doesn’t mean small businesses will get the money those large-chain businesses return to the federal program that was designed to provide money to help business owners with 500 employees or fewer to keep them on the payroll and off unemployment.

“They are paying it back, but there is not a mechanism for the SBA to relend it back out,” Deckard said. “So, it’s all (public relations). It doesn’t mean it’s opening it up for somebody else to receive it.”

The initial rules of the program allowed bigger companies to qualify if they had fewer than 500 employees per location versus their total number of workers.

Even with the infusion of new money, one banking industry spokesman said Thursday he believes most, if not all, the new money will go to applications from businesses already in the SBA system.

“The majority, if not all, of the funding Congress is considering right now is already exhausted,” said Nick Simpson, a spokesman with the Consumer Bankers Association.

But Deckard, who serves as treasurer for the Independent Bankers of America, said he doubts Simpson’s prediction can be true, especially with the new rules allocating the combined $60 billion to the smallest lenders.

“That’s why we lobbied so hard to get that, so truly small businesses wouldn’t be shut out form the big banks clogging the portal earlier than us,” Deckard said.

The initial $349 billion ran out on April 16 after being available for less than two weeks. That money went to more than 1.7 million loans. Of that, about 30,421 loans totaling roughly $7 billion went to businesses in Washington state.

“We were able to process every single application in the first round,” Deckard said.

Once Trump signs the bill into law and the SBA opens its portal, the sprint to secure funding will be renewed.

“I have no idea whether they will open the portal to accept new applications (today, Friday) or Monday,” Deckard said Thursday. “We are preparing to work all night, if necessary.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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