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The Unsafe Waters of the PPP Purported FTE Reduction Safe Harbors

On June 17, 2020, the SBA and U.S. Treasury published an updated form of application and instructions for borrowers seeking forgiveness of their Paycheck Protection Program loans, as well as a new “EZ” form of application and instruction. In both cases, these applications generally implement the statutory changes required by the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act.

While the improved likelihood of full forgiveness due to the 24-week covered period is likely to draw the most attention, potential compliance with two of the safe harbors provided to avoid a loss of forgiveness in the event of a reduction in the number of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employees comparing the applicable “covered period” with the applicable reference period. Under the CARES Act, while borrowers are generally eligible for loan forgiveness for certain expenditures during the covered period, actual loan forgiveness must be reduced if the borrower’s weekly average number of FTE employees during the covered period was less than during the borrower’s chosen reference period (generally, February 15, 2019 through June 30, 2019 or January 1, 2020 and February 29, 2020; or, for seasonal employers, any consecutive 12-week period between May 1, 2019 and September 15, 2019).

However, under the revised PPP loan forgiveness application, there are certain FTE reduction exceptions and two safe harbors. Each of these provide potential relief from a decrease in forgiveness due to a reduction in FTE levels… but they also provide enhanced risk for borrowers needing to rely on them. In addition, general eligibility for the use of the Form EZ loan forgiveness application is conditioned on compliance with the reduction exceptions or one of the safe harbors.

FTE Forgiveness Reduction Exceptions

As provided in the original forgiveness application, in calculating the average number of FTE employees during the covered period, borrowers are permitted to effectively add back the FTEs for: (1) any positions for which the employer made a good-faith, written offer to rehire, which was rejected, (2) any employees who were fired for cause, voluntarily resigned, or voluntarily requested and received a reduction in hours. (If the positions were re-filled during the covered period, than borrowers are required not to double-count such positions.)

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PPP Loan Statistics Through June 6, 2020

From the launch of the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) on April 3, 2020, through June 6, 2020, 5,458 lenders have approved loans to over 4.5 million small businesses for over $511 billion dollars. On June 7, 2020, the SBA published an updated Paycheck Protection Program Report with additional details.

To put some scale around the size of the program, for the last five years, the SBA has averaged annual total loans approved under its 7(a) small business loan program (the same umbrella under which PPP loans fall) of roughly $17.4 billion. Accordingly, in April and May of 2020, the SBA has processed roughly 29 years worth of SBA loans. While the rate of PPP loans being improved has slowed greatly, as discussed more below, this still highlights the size of the program and the strain under which the SBA has been operating.

Average Loan Size

The overall average size of a PPP loan is now approximately $113 thousand. This is down significantly from the first round of PPP funding, where the average approved PPP loan was $206 thousand. Based on the formula for PPP lending, this means the average borrower likely had monthly payroll costs of approximately $45 thousand.

Of course, the average size of PPP loan is certainly affected by a relatively small number of larger loans. As reflected above, the majority of loans made were for loans of less than $50 thousand (reflecting monthly payroll costs of less than $20 thousand). Over 85% of the total PPP loans made were for less than $150 thousand, and over 93% of the total PPP loans made were for less than $350 thousand. While significant ink (digitally and otherwise) has been spilled on larger PPP borrowers, less than 2% of the PPP loans made were for more than $1 million.

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PPP Flexibility Act Provides Additional Flexibility (and Potential Traps) for Borrowers and Lenders

H.R. 7010, the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 (the “PPP Flexibility Act”), was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 417-1 on May 28, 2020.  The Senate passed H.R. 7010 unanimously by voice vote on June 3, 2020.  President Trump signed the PPP Flexibility Act into law on June 5, 2020, making effective several modifications to the Paycheck Protection Program.

The PPP Flexibility Act causes a number of changes to the Paycheck Protection Program, including:

  • An extension of the forgiveness period from eight weeks to twenty-four weeks (optional for existing PPP borrowers), which will also presumably affect the relevant covered period for measuring reductions in employees or salary and wages;
  • A requirement for forgiveness to use 60% (rather than 75%) of the PPP loan proceeds on permissible payroll costs;
  • An extension of the deadline to re-hire employees for an exemption to the forgiveness limitation to December 31, 2020 (from June 30, 2020);
  • An additional statutory exemption for re-hiring employees based on a reduction in level of business activity due to COVID-19 and the government’s response;
  • An extension of the payment deferral period until loan forgiveness is granted or a loan forgiveness application is not filed in a timely manner;
  • A five-year loan maturity term for all new PPP loans (although existing loans will stay at two years unless borrower and lender mutually agree to extend; and
  • Permission for all PPP recipients to take advantage of the CARES Act provision permitting deferred payment of the employer’s share of Social Security taxes due on wages paid through the end of the year.

Our Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP Client Alert on the PPP Flexibility Act goes into further details on each of these changes. We anticipate further regulations and guidance from the Treasury and Small Business Administration shortly, but the PPP Flexibility Act provides a number of choices for PPP borrowers to consider.

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Paycheck Protection Program and EIDL Advances

The interplay of Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Loan Advances and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan Forgiveness is broken. Maybe there’s further guidance to come that will make the existing application and guidances makes sense, but as I’m reading the current guidance, PPP lenders could be required to “eat” the EIDL advances received by their PPP borrowers. While that’s certainly not the intent of the PPP, the existing mechanics may make that a reality.

Background

Section 1102 of the CARES Act provided that PPP borrowers who had received an EIDL loan between January 31, 2020 and April 3, 2020, could (and in some circumstances had to) increase their PPP loan amount to refinance outstanding EIDL loans. Section 1110 of the CARES Act provided that if an EIDL applicant received an EIDL advance subsequently was approved for a PPP loan, the advanced amount would be reduced from the loan forgiveness amount. (Whether Section 1110 of the Cares Act makes sense or not is also beyond this post; for now, I’m simply assuming it means what it says, at least with regard to EIDL advances related to COVID-19 existing at the time of PPP loan forgiveness.)

Note: Section 1102 only applied for existing EIDL loans as of April 3, 2020, while Section 1110 applies to subsequent EIDL advances, even if those amounts were not rolled into PPP loans.

Under the first Interim Final Rule, outstanding EIDL loans, less the amount of any outstanding EIDL advance, were rolled forward into the maximum PPP loan amount. Proceeds from any advance up to $10,000 on the EIDL loan would be deducted from the loan forgiveness amount on the PPP loan. “For purposes of determining the percentage of use of proceeds for payroll costs, the amount of any EIDL refinanced will be included. For purposes of loan forgiveness, however, the borrower will have to document the proceeds used for payroll costs in order to determine the amount of forgiveness.”

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PPP Forgiveness Guidance

PPP Forgiveness Guidance

May 28, 2020

Authored by: Robert Klingler

We are still working on a few specific pieces of guidance for lenders as they process PPP forgiveness applications,  particularly with regard to minimizing the bank’s liability and with regard to EIDL advances. But in the meantime, I thought I would share some of the thought leadership that we’ve published from a PPP borrower perspective, since I suspect banks will also get a lot of questions from their borrowers as well.

In our view, the Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness Application answered many questions, but certainly not all of them.

The additional Loan Forgiveness And Loan Review regulations answered additional questions (but of course left more questions as well).

Another potential resource is the AICPA Loan Forgiveness Calculator available here. Given the continuing flow of ongoing guidance, the Calculator is updated regulatory. (Note: we have not verified any of the assumptions/calculations made by the AICPA calculator, but believe it can be a useful comparison tool regardless.)

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Analyzing Borrower Certification Risks under the Paycheck Protection Program

As the editor of BankBCLP.com, I tend not to write a lot of posts for other blogs hosted by Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP. However, the Paycheck Protection Program(PPP) has affected small business clients throughout the firm.

The shifting narratives around the government’s interpretations regarding eligibility for participation in the PPP has caused many borrowers to reconsider their own applications and to consider exiting the program by returning PPP funds by the government’s current safe harbor return deadline of May 14th.

In this post on the BCLP US Securities and Corporate Governance Blog, I describe the history and background of the PPP certification process, and suggest a three bucket risk framework for analyzing one’s certification. In discussions with corporate clients, we have found this framework to be useful for public and private companies.

As recognized in FAQ 31, this remains primarily a risk for PPP borrowers, and not PPP lenders, as “lenders may rely on a borrower’s certification regarding the necessity of the loan request.” In our experience, this has also made many lenders reasonably constrained from providing any further advice to borrowers regarding analysis of the borrower’s certification.

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The Paycheck Protection Program: Managing Fair Lending Risks

The past few weeks have seen increasing scrutiny of the lenders and borrowers participating in the Small Business Administration’s (“SBA”) Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”), including by the Treasury Department, SBA Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice, and Congress with the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery surely soon to follow.

Against this backdrop, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) has recently raised concerns related to fair lending for lenders participating in the PPP. On May 6, 2020, the CFPB issued guidance related to the timing for Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”)-mandated adverse action notices under the PPP. On April 27, 2020, the CFPB published a statement in which the Bureau emphasized that lenders must comply with ECOA when extending small business credit, outlining key bases for discrimination claims under ECOA and encouraging women and minority-owned businesses who feel they have suffered lending discrimination to submit complaints to the CFPB through its complaint portal.

The CFPB’s recent focus on institutional fair lending compliance accords with that of federal banking regulators. For example, on April 27, 2020, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency released “OCC Bulletin 2020-45,” which, among other things, encourages institutions to “prudently document their implementation and lending decisions” under the SBA’s PPP.

Given recent regulatory focus on fair lending compliance in connection with PPP lending, banks and other lenders should consider the following proactive risk mitigation steps.

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Guidance for Public Company PPP Recipients

On April 23, 2020, the U.S. Treasury published FAQ #31 for the Paycheck Protection Program, providing a safe harbor for return of funds by May 7, 2020 in cases of insufficient need by recipients of PPP funds by public companies with liquidity alternatives.

With this background, I joined several of my securities law and litigation colleagues to publish guidance for public company Paycheck Protection Program loan recipients.

PPP applications require certification that “[c]urrent economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support ongoing operations.”  To the extent that public companies may have had other reliable, accessible sources of capital markets funding, the borrower’s certification of economic need could be called into question. Public companies are clearly not all in the same sitaution with regard to their ability to obtain other sources of funding, and face a number of difficult decisions.

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PPP Litigation and Regulatory Risks

With assistance from some of my litigation colleagues, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner has just published guidance on re-evaluating practices and considering some of the litigation risks that could arise with the Paycheck Protection Program.

Prior to the PPP going live on April 3, banks scrambled to assemble teams and online application in-take and processing protocols to handle the onslaught of applications.  Over 1.6 million small businesses were approved for relief, a small fraction of the total number of small businesses in the U.S. 

For many, the Program ground to a halt on April 16, 2020, a mere 13 days after it opened, when all of the $349 billion in funding was exhausted.  The abrupt and swift depletion of the Program left many small business owners in dismay and frustrated with their banks, and pondering what recourse they might have.  A few quickly filed lawsuits.  More lawsuits no doubt are coming.  

As Congress gets set to appropriate more than $300 billion in additional funding for the Program, and lenders prepare for ramping up their PPP operations for the second round of applications, it is smart to re-evaluate practices and consider some of the litigation risks that could arise. 

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PPP Refresh – $310 Billion More

Based on news reporting, we understand that Congress and President have collectively agreed on $300 billion in additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. The circulated draft of the “Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhance Act” makes no changes to the eligibility or terms of the PPP, but does authorize an additional $310 billion in funds, raising the total funding level for PPP loans to $659 billion.

The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhance Act would also increase the amount authorized for the SBA to ultimately forgive to $670 billion, presumably recognizing an intent to also be in position to forgive interest in additional to principal.

While the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhance Act does not alter the eligibility or terms for either borrowers or lenders, it does provide some protected classes of lenders who are ensured a set aside of a portion of the expanded PPP authorization. Specifically, depository institutions and credit unions with between $50 billion and $10 billion in consolidated assets will be ensured the ability to issue, in the aggregate, at least $30 billion in loans guaranteed by the SBA under the PPP. Depository institutions and credit unions with less than $10 billion in consolidated assets, as well as community development financial institutions (CDFIs), minority depository institutions (MDIs), and certain state development companies certified under Title V of the Small business Investment Act will be ensured the ability to issue, in the aggregate, at least $30 billion in loans guaranteed by the SBA under the PPP.

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