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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 personal 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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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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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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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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Introduction to the Main Street Lending Program

On April 9, 2020, the Federal Reserve announced that it is taking additional action to provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans to support the economy through various programs, including the Main Street Lending Program (“MSLP”).  The Fed intends that the MSLP will ensure credit flow to small and mid-sized businesses by providing support to businesses that were in good financial standing prior to the COVID-19 crisis, on terms and conditions to be set by the Federal Reserve. 

The MSLP consists of two facilities:

  • The Main Street New Loan Facility (“MSNLF”) for unsecured term loans originated on or after April 8, 2020; and
  • The Main Street Expanded Loan Facility (“MSELF”) for upsize tranches of secured or unsecured term loans originated before April 8, 2020 (provided the upsize is on or after April 8, 2020). 
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COVID-19 and Executing Contracts at Home, Force Majeure Considerations, and MAE Clauses in M&A Transactions

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.

Executing U.S. Contracts While Working from Home

Now that many of us are working from home and social distancing, can we still close deals in the US with signed agreements? Are electronically signed contracts really enforceable? Fortunately, most contracts can be entered into electronically without the need to print the agreement and sign it with a pen. This alert discusses the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, the Federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, and advises parties how to use readily available services to create legally enforceable contracts with electronic signatures. 

Force Majeure and COVID-19: Considerations for Businesses in the U.S.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many parties are questioning whether their performance of a contract may be excused under a force majeure clause. Force majeure refers to a contractual defense under which a party may be relieved from liability for non-performance if unforeseeable circumstances beyond the party’s control prevent or delay the party from fulfilling its obligations under a contract. This alert outlines the key questions for a force majeure analysis, analyzes the implications of invoking force majeure, and discusses its interaction with insurance coverage.

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COVID-19 and Emergency Leave Plans, Retirement Saving, and Insider Trading

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.

Emergency Leave-Sharing Plans for U.S. Employers

In addition to the paid sick leave and family leave U.S. employers must provide under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, some employers are seeking additional ways to support employees affected by COVID-19. This alert reviews IRS guidance and details how employers can implement an emergency leave-sharing plan in response to the crisis.

Unraveling U.S. Retirement Savings – How a Global Pandemic Threatens to Undo Decades of Planning

With the economy in a free-fall and the U.S. government scrambling to create a financial safety net for citizens, giving access to tax-qualified retirement savings was a natural piece of Congress’ plan to loosen the grip on needed funds. Implementing a thoughtful, needs-based, COVID-19 withdrawal/loan policy could protect employees’ financial security for decades to come. This alert covers the options available to plan sponsors to combat the economic impact of COVID-19.

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Credit Reporting & Collections Forbearance per the CFPB

The CFPB issued guidance and consumer information tools last week covering components of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In this rapidly environment, financial services companies might do well to check the CFPB blog frequently to keep abreast of new developments and to be aware of specific information and tools consumers may reference in difficult hardship conversations. 

Credit Reporting Policy Statement: On April 1, the CFPB issued a Policy Statement regarding the CARES Act credit reporting requirements lenders and credit furnishers and reporting agencies must follow under the fair Credit Reporting Act and Regulation V.

The Statement recognizes the importance of accurate credit reporting and information to the consumer financial services market system. In a press release Director Kraninger said: “During this time of uncertainty, we are providing clarity to ensure the consumer reporting industry can continue to function. Consumers rely on their credit report to purchase a new car, their new home, or to finance their college education. An effective consumer reporting system is critical in promoting fair and efficient access to credit in the consumer financial services market.”

While highlighting the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on consumers, the Policy Statement recognizes the operations and staffing challenges lenders, servicers and reporting agencies are having as well. “The Bureau intends to consider the circumstances that entities face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and entities’ good faith efforts to comply with their statutory and regulatory obligations as soon as possible. The Bureau believes that this flexibility will help furnishers and consumer reporting agencies to manage the challenges the current crisis poses.”

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Tax Effects on Paycheck Protection Program Borrowers

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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