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PPP Loan Necessity Certifications and Fraud Investigations

November 10, 2020

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A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights renewed talk in some circles about allegedly “growing evidence” of fraud among PPP participants.  We think the observation of the former federal prosecutor who is quoted in the story is salient.  While we wouldn’t phrase it the way the ex-prosecutor does (the “scandal is what’s legal, not what’s illegal”) and we disagree with his disdain for the program, the larger point is important: Congress has spoken—twice—and may speak a third time. In adopting the CARES Act, Congress established a program with small businesses’ self-assessment of their needs as the critical component for eligibility.  Congress’s revisions to the PPP at the end of May liberalized several program rules and broadened the amount of loan forgiveness that borrowers could expect.  While the existence of fraud, as with any federal program, was predictable, particularly in the rollout of an emergency measure, the WSJ story, and the federal prosecutor, points out that prosecutions are difficult considering that potential defendants would be judged based on the regulations and law existing at the time application were made.

We also think it’s important to put the numbers discussed in the Wall Street Journal article in context.  If every one of the suspicious activity reports related to PPP loans, then less than 0.05% of loans were suspicious.  If all 500 suspects are guilty of fraud, that represents less than 0.01% of PPP borrowers.  If we round up the dollar amount involved to ten hundred million dollars (which any reporter attempting to make a story sound important (or evil mastermind transported forward in time) would round to one billion dollars), then less than 0.2% of money lent under the Paycheck Program was fraudulent.

The WSJ story comes at a time when we have seen many accounting firms and a number of lawyers circulate the draft SBA Loan Necessity Questionnaire for For-Profit and Non-Profit Borrowers. “questionnaires.”  The questionnaires state that they will be used in cases of PPP loans greater than $2 million “to facilitate the collection of supplemental information that will be used by SBA loan reviewers to evaluate the good-faith certification that you made on your PPP Borrower Application … that economic uncertainty made the loan request necessary.”

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Tax Effects on Paycheck Protection Program Borrowers

April 6, 2020

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With regard to the interplay of various tax provisions of the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), we note the following:

  • If a borrower takes a PPP loan, they are restricted from claiming the employee retention credit, even if the PPP loan is not forgiven.
  • If any portion of a borrower’s PPP loan is forgiven, the borrower is restricted from taking advantage of the deferred payment of the employer portion of Social Security tax obligations.
  • If all or a portion of borrower’s PPP loan is forgiven, the statute provides that such forgiven amount shall be excluded from gross income.

Employee retention credit. The CARES Act provides certain eligible employers a refundable credit with respect to the employer’s share of Social Security tax for due in an amount equal to 50% of qualified wages paid after March 12, 2020 and before January 1, 2021 (up to $10,000 per employee for all calendar quarters). Eligible employers generally include those required to fully or partially suspend operations due to a COVID-19 related government order or that have a 50% decrease in gross receipts for a calendar quarter when compared to the same quarter in 2019.  Generally, all employee wages paid by employers with up to 100 full-time employees in 2019 are eligible for the credit. However, if an employer had more than 100 full-time employees in 2019, only wages paid to employees who are not providing services due to the suspension of operations or significant decrease in gross receipts are credit-eligible. If an employer takes a PPP loan, they are not eligible to take advantage of the employee retention credit.

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