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Lessons for Community Bank Boards from the Great Recession to Apply in the Pandemic

In March, I dialed into the first ever “conference call only” meeting of a 14 year old community bank. The main office of the bank is located in Philadelphia and there was growing concern about the rapidly increasing number of Coronavirus cases in New York and New Jersey, and the spread of new cases into eastern Pennsylvania. I recalled that our board had reviewed an updated version of the bank’s pandemic policy in December but I couldn’t remember the details. Suddenly that policy had relevance in a way I could never have imagined. In April, our board held its second conference call only meeting, and we are likely to continue that pattern for several more months.

We are all aware of the circumstances that led to pandemic policies being retrieved from file folders and read with interest for the first time.  What we don’t yet know is how severe the resulting economic shock will be, and the degree to which loan portfolios of community banks will be adversely impacted.  It is clear, however, that the adverse impact on small to medium sized businesses across the U.S. has been considerable. As the CEO of one of our law firm’s bank clients in the Southwest recently remarked, we are experiencing the first ever government imposed recession.

God willing, the banking industry will remain strong and be a source of support for the nation’s economy as we recover from the onslaught of COVID-19.  In that context, the boards of community banks could benefit from recalling some hard learned lessons from the recent Great Recession. 

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COVID-19 and Business Operations/Reopening, Cybersecurity from Home, and SEC Whistleblower Activity

The devastating impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) needs no introduction.  BCLP has consolidated all of its client alerts regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) as one page of resources. On that page, you can also limit by topic area, jurisdiction and areas of practice.

In this post, we have highlighted some of the client alerts that we believe may be of specific importance to our community bank clients.

U.S. Businesses Challenge Government Orders in Attempt to Continue Operations

Shelter-in-place and social distancing have become the new normal as we try to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S.  Many state governments have implemented stay-home or shelter-in-place orders to try to “flatten the curve” and protect citizens’ safety. But as time passes, businesses are also concerned.  Under many such executive orders, a business that is not deemed “essential” or “life-sustaining” may be required to stop in-person operations, and we’re starting to see an uptick in local enforcement, including cease and desist letters and revocation of occupancy permits. Some shuttered businesses have started to bring their claims to court.  This post provides a summary of the prominent claims and factual allegations featured in complaints from business plaintiffs.   

Employer Guidance for Reopening the Workplace

Over the past week, increased discussion of reopening the U.S. economy has raised numerous questions as employers prepare to return their employees to the workplace. While the exact steps to reopen the economy remain uncertain, employers should begin to consider what measures will help ensure a safe, orderly return to business, particularly since President Trump’s White House issued its Opening Up America Again three phased approach for re-opening the economy, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance about returning to work. This alert details the potential measures and related issues BCLP suggests clients consider in preparing to return to work, whether next week, next month, or this summer.

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Preparing a COVID-19 Reopening Plan

Five Steps to Take Right Now

While banks have remained open as part of critical infrastructure throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and many were able to keep branches opened throughout the pandemic, we are expecting many banks to further expand branch openings in the coming weeks. Moreover, many business customers of banks will also be seeking to reopen, with their ability to generate revenue critical to the long-term return of the U.S. economy (and the bank’s asset quality).

The consensus of most business folks, including bankers, is that as the U.S. gradually re-opens, the look and feel of businesses will change dramatically. Before the world can return to its full pre-COVID-19 normal, this interim period between the lifting of shelter in place orders and the broad distribution of vaccines or effective treatments is projected by experts to last at least one, and possibly as long as two years. Colleagues at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner have prepared an alert focusing on public facing businesses which must significantly change their operations to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.

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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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The Bank Account’s Introduction to the Paycheck Protection Program

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Joining all the (far more) popular podcasts, The Bank Account is now recording from the host’s home. This episode features Partners Karen Fries and Mike Royle joining me in a presentation about the basic terms of the SBA’s small business forgivable loan program, the Paycheck Protection Program.

As the Paycheck Protection Program is changing rapidly, it’s important to note that guts of this presentation were recorded on April 9, 2020. While the funds have currently been exhausted for new PPP loans (pending Congress deciding when and how to allocate additional funds), the key terms of the loans and the forgiveness functions discussed in this podcast episode remain accurate, at the least as of the time of posting.

While our initial approach was going to be to engage in a debate on the merits of this practice, none of us ultimately wanted to take the side of justifying the practice; for different reasons, many of which are expressed on the podcast, we all believe that it is a bad idea for bank directors to personally approve loans.

For those interested in hearing more information about the Paycheck Protection Program in audio form, I highly recommend the Big Small Business Rescue from Planet Money. And if you’re craving more content, and prefer the last financial crisis, I’d also suggest the FDIC “podcast” on the 2008 financial crisis.

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SBA PPP Loan Approval Statistics

From launch of the Paycheck Protection Program on April 3, 2020 through the exhaustion of the originally committed funds on April 16, 2020, 4,975 lenders approved loans to over 1.6 million small businesses for over $342 billion. On April 17, the SBA published a Paycheck Protection Program Report with additional statistics on the approved PPP loans.

Excluding weekends (which probably isn’t fair, as I know a lot of bankers that worked non-stop the last two weekends), this amounts to over 160,000 applications approved each day, or more than $34 billion in loan proceeds each day.

The Report indicates the overall average loan size approved was $206,000. Assuming each applicant applied for the maximum PPP loan it was entitled to, this indicates that the average applicant’s monthly payroll costs were approximately $82,400.

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SBA PPP Eligibility Requirements

The SBA has made clear that businesses with 500 or fewer employees can apply for PPP funds, with certain exceptions. The number of employees for a business is generally determined by the average number of people employed for each pay period over the business’s latest 12 calendar months. For this determination, any person on the payroll must be included as one employee regardless of hours worked or temporary status.

However, for businesses with greater than 500 employees, there are still three possible ways qualify for PPP funds. This post analyzes the three additional methods for a business to qualify for PPP funds, based on the latest guidance from the SBA as of April 15, 2020.

Method 1: SBA Employee-Based Size Standards

Under the CARES Act, the SBA requires borrowers to have 500 or fewer employees or the number of employees specified per the SBA’s Size Standards table. Thus, a business with greater than 500 employees may still be eligible if it meets applicable SBA employee-based size standards for its primary industry. A business’s primary industry is denoted by its North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Code. A list of all NAICS codes is available here.

For example, a business in the in the primary industry of natural gas extraction (NAICS Code 211130) with 1,000 employees would still be eligible for PPP funds because the applicable SBA employee-based size standard is 1,250.

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SBA PPP April 14 Interim Final Rule Guidance

On April 14, 2020, the SBA published an interim final rule that provides additional guidance regarding topics of confusion among both Payroll Protection Program (“PPP”) lenders and borrowers. This new rule supplements the first interim final rule, which was issued by the SBA on April 2, 2020, and specifically addresses the eligibility of self-employed individuals, partnerships, director-owned businesses, and legal gambling businesses. This post covers the updates detailed in the new interim final rule, based on the latest guidance from the SBA as of April 16, 2020.

Self-Employed Individuals

Eligibility

The new interim final rule makes clear that an individual may be eligible for a PPP loan if the individual:

  1. was in operation as a business on February 15, 2020;
  2. is an individual with self-employment income (such as an independent contractor or a sole proprietor);
  3. has a principal place of residence in the United States; and
  4. filed or will file a Form 1040 Schedule C for 2019.

The SBA has communicated that it will issue additional guidance for those individuals with self-employment income who: (i) were not in operation in 2019 but who were in operation on February 15, 2020, and (ii) will file a Form 1040 Schedule C for 2020.

We note that individuals should be aware that participation in the PPP may affect eligibility for state-administered unemployment compensation or unemployment assistance programs.

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