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SBA coming through on promises to fund small businesses

Federal money continues to flow into small businesses with community bankers leading the way as the second round of the Payroll Protection Program ends its first week since Congress replenished its funding.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the program has approved about 960,000 loans to businesses throughout the country. About 82% of those loans were funded through community banks with $50 billion or fewer in assets.

Ezra Eckhardt, CEO of Spokane Teachers Federal Credit Union, said that number is somewhat misleading because no bank in the state of Washington is close to having $50 billion in assets. But 61% of those loans were processed by the community banks with $10 billion or less in assets.

“So, it’s loans going to businesses that really need them,” Eckhardt said. “For as much criticism as the program has had, it is getting traction and will be very significant in the value it brings to the business community.”

As a gesture of good faith after the federal agency took public relations hits for providing money to publicly traded companies and the Los Angeles Lakers, it made a full eight hours on Wednesday available only to the smallest banks to ensure that small businesses would get a share of the funding.

“We are working hard to make sure that the PPP loans go to the businesses that are intended,” said Jeremy Field, the regional administrator for the SBA’s Pacific Northwest Region. “We know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. This program is so important to help small businesses stay afloat.”

Once a business gets approved for a loan, the lending institution has 10 days to provide the money. As long as business owners use 75% or more on employee wages and salaries over eight weeks, the money does not have to be paid back.

Greg Deckard, president and CEO of State Bank Northwest in Spokane, said the initial rules from the U.S. Treasury Department caused some confusion about whether business owners would be able to spend all of the money in eight weeks, especially if stay-at-home orders are extended.

However, federal regulators have clarified that business owners who obtain PPP funding can give back the balance of what they don’t spend and still not face the prospect of having the grant turn into a loan that would have to be paid back within two years.

“The reason they clarified that was trying to give these publicly traded companies an out for paying the money back … without consequences,” Deckard said.

He doesn’t believe the federal government wants businesses to be saddled with a loan, even at 1% interest, as a result of the program.

“There really is no risk for (businesses) to take it because they have the ability to give it back without any downside,” Deckard said.

Eckhardt, of STCU, said the SBA’s once-balky computer system has been working fine. In fact, his institution has been able to accept applications in the morning and secure federal funding by the afternoon.

But both he and Deckard said they expect the second round of funding of $310 billion to run out by the end of this week.

In the first $349 billion round of PPP loans, about $7billion went to businesses in Washington. Eckhardt said he believes that number will end up being more than $10billion.

“We’ll end up with more than $10 billion in forgivable loans put back into our state,” he said. “That’s huge for our economy.”

Deckard said his bank, which has about 30 employees, have processed more than 400 loans worth more than $50 million.

“When you think of the impact my employees are having, they saved 5,000 jobs,” he said. “I know other banks are doing the same thing. It just shows the power of what teams can do when everybody comes together. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

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