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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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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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Lender Obligations under Paycheck Protection Program

Pursuant to the Interim Final Rule published this evening, the SBA has confirmed that banks participating as lenders will have limited liability for the bad acts of their borrowers. This assumes, however that Form 2484, when ultimately published by the SBA, will not contain additional problematic certifications required to be made by the lender.

“SBA will allow lenders to rely on certifications of the borrower in order to determine eligibility of the borrower and use of loan proceeds and to rely on specified documents provided by the borrower to determine qualifying loan amount and eligibility for loan forgiveness. Lenders must comply with the applicable lender obligations set forth in this interim final rule, but will be held harmless for borrowers’ failure to comply with program criteria; remedies for borrower violations or fraud are separately addressed in this interim final rule.”

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Community Banks Should be Encouraged to Participate (as Borrowers) in the SBA Paycheck Protection Program

Community Banks should not only be permitted, they should be encouraged, to participate as borrowers in the CARES Act SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Both the Small Business Administration and each of the federal and state banking regulators should expressly acknowledge that community banks with less than 500 employees are both permitted and encouraged to participate, as borrowers, in the PPP. 

[Update, Evening of April 2, 2020. The SBA has now published the interim final rule for the PPP. Although the guidance published under either “2(a) Am I eligible?” or “2(b) Could I be ineligible even if I meet the eligibility requirements in (a) above?” make no mention of banks being ineligible, provision 2(c) provides that “Businesses that are not eligible for PPP loans are identified in 13 CFR 120.110 and described further in SBA’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 50 10.” Banks are included as non-eligible borrowers under both provisions. As discussed below, this remains in apparent disagreement with the CARES Act, but unless the SBA changes its mind, it appears we’re missing an opportunity to further expand credit for small businesses.]

[Update #2, Still Evening of April 2, 2020. The Interim Final Rule clearly contemplates that the PPP is not otherwise subject to SBA rules as it provides “The program requirements of the PPP identified in this rule temporarily supersede any conflicting Loan Program Requirement.” So, to be clear, the SBA and Treasury chose not to allow community banks to participate.]

Without this encouragement, community banks risk regulatory criticism and reputational concerns that participating in the PPP represents a warning regarding the bank’s safety and soundness.   I would argue that the truth is far different.  Participating in the PPP would demonstrate that bank management, notwithstanding the economic uncertainty, wants to fortify the bank’s safety and soundness while extending its ability to provide credit to households and business throughout the United States.

In the last week, the federal banking agencies have announced a number of regulatory actions intended to “increase banking organizations’ ability to provide credit to households and businesses,” including modifications to the supplementary leverage ratio.  These changes are both reasonable and appropriate, but only affect the largest banking institutions.  Like the aims of the Small Business Administration and the Paycheck Protection Program more broadly, efforts should also be taken to support community banks in their efforts to continue to provide credit to households and businesses as we all work through the impacts of the coronavirus.  Banking regulators could directly “increase community banking organizations’ ability to provide credit to households and businesses” by encouraging their participation in the PPP.  

The text of the CARES Act provides that “any business concern … shall be eligible to receive a covered loan” if the business concern meets the employee thresholds set forth in the CARES Act.  If law school taught me anything, it was that any should mean any. Neither the Borrower nor Lender Information Sheet on the program published by the U.S. Treasury Department discuss any additional limitations based on type of business.  In fact, the Borrowers Information sheet states that “All businesses – including nonprofits, veterans organizations, Tribal business concerns, sole proprietorships, self-employed individuals, and independent contractors – with 500 or fewer employees can apply.”  If law school taught me anything else, it was that all should mean all. Similarly, the initial application provided by the U.S. Treasury does not contemplate or provide for any collection of the type of business engaged in by the borrower.

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COVID-19 and Economic Stabilization Act, Foreclosures, Disaster Assistance Loans, and Consumer Class Actions

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, which is the second of many, we have highlighted some of the client alerts that we believe may be of specific importance to our community bank clients.

Economic Stimulus under the U.S. Coronavirus Economic Stabilization Act of 2020

The Coronavirus Economic Stabilization Act of 2020, Title IV of the CARES Act provides, among other things, $500 billion to the U.S. Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund to provide loans, loan guarantees, and other investments in support of eligible businesses, States and municipalities and subsidies necessary for such loans, loan guarantees and other investments. This alert summarizes what impact the Stabilization Act may have on businesses and whether those businesses may be eligible for assistance.

Foreclosure and Receiver Issues in the United States during COVID-19

This alert provides an overview of the responses of courts and local and state governments of certain jurisdictions, as well as of the federal government, to the COVID-19 outbreak. The analysis has a particular focus on mortgage foreclosures and evictions, particularly in the commercial context, although information and guidance remains limited. Effects on residential foreclosures and evictions have been included as governments have tended to provide protection to residential properties first. Eventually, more state and local governments may provide guidance as to commercial foreclosures and evictions

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What Businesses and Community Banks Need to Know About the CARES Act, SBA Lending, and Loan Forgiveness

The CARES Act has significant relief for small businesses, including $349 billion in Small Business Administration (SBA) loan guaranties and subsidies and additional funding for SBA programs. Highlights include: 

  • Expansion of SBA’s 7(a) Loan Program to Support New “Paycheck Protection Program” Loans. The SBA’s existing 7(a) program will see:
    • Increase in maximum loan amount to $10 million.
    • Allowable uses expanded to include:
      • Payroll support (including paid sick or medical leave);
      • Employee salaries;
      • Mortgage, rent and utility payments;
      • Insurance premiums; and
      • Other debt obligations. 
  • Loan Forgiveness. Certain borrowers would be eligible for loan forgiveness equal to the amount spent during an eight-week period after the origination date of the loan on:
    • Payroll costs;
    • Interest payment on any mortgage incurred before Feb. 15, 2020;
    • Rent on any lease in force before Feb. 15, 2020; and
    • Utilities for which service began before Feb. 15, 2020.

The amount forgiven would be reduced in proportion to any reduction in employees retained compared to the prior year and to the reduction in pay of any employee beyond 25% of prior year compensation.

  • Subsidies for Certain Existing SBA 7(a) Loans
  • Special Terms for SBA Loans.
    • No personal or collateral guarantee will be required.
    • The eligible recipient does not have to certify that it is unable to obtain credit elsewhere.
    • Eligible borrowers must make a good faith certification that the loan is necessary due to the uncertainty of current economic conditions caused by COVID-19; that funds will be used for a permitted purpose; and that they are not receiving fund from another SBA program for the same uses.
    • Maximum term of loan is 10 years.
    • Interest rate cannot exceed 4% but interest payments are completely deferred for 1 year.
    • No prepayment penalty.

Who Qualifies?

The CARES Act program covers business with 500 or fewer employees, unless the covered industry’s SBA size standard allows more than 500 employees, which were operational on Feb. 15, 2020. The size standards are tested on an affiliate basis—combined with all businesses under common control (50% ownership or contractual control)—counting on an aggregate basis towards the size test, except for hospitality and restaurant businesses, franchises, and recipients of Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) investment.

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Commentary: NYTimes Recognizes Community Banks

The front cover of the May 17, 2009 issue of the New York Times Magazine asked “Are Small Banks the Future?”  As noted in the article, lending may have slowed at the largest banks, but at the other end of the financial system, there are 8,500 community banks, and most remain very strong.

In the midst of the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression, community banks have generally fared well. That’s because they typically shunned the lending practices that led to high default rates. They rarely participated in the securitization of loans, credit-default swaps and other overvalued financial products that put the global financial system in crisis. Instead, they stuck to the fundamentals. They considered the character and history of their borrowers. They required collateral. Without community banks, the current financial crisis would be a lot worse.

The focus of the mainstreet press, and the Treasury Department, continues to be on the largest institutions, whether it be the initial nine TARP Capital recipients, or the nineteen that underwent the stress test.  There is some rationality for this focus, the majority of assets, deposits and loans are held by these institutions.  But just like small businesses generally, community banks play a critical role in the American economy.

Community banks may have weathered the current crisis better than larger banks, but they remain an American oddity. Most other countries have 5 or 10 na­tional banks, and when they get in trouble, as they did in Iceland, it can be devastating. The balance in this country is tipped toward big institutions (the four largest control half the assets held by American banks and 40 percent of all deposits), but community banks still make 43 percent of all small business loans under $1 million. Since January 2008, fewer than 1 percent of all community banks have failed.

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Stimulus for Small Businesses — Unlocking the Credit Market

On March 16, 2009, the Treasury announced the terms of new program, Unlocking Credit for Small Businesses, aimed at helping jump start credit markets for small business loans.  The program includes the following significant provisions:

  1. The Treasury will purchase up to $15 billion in securities backed by Small Business Administration (SBA) loans;
  2. The SBA may guarantee up to 90% of Section 7(a) loans, which are loans to support the business operations of small businesses;
  3. The SBA will temporarily eliminate loan fees for certain Section 7(a) loans and 504 Program loans, which provide long-term financing to directly support economic development within a community;
  4. The largest Financial Stability Plan Assistance recipients must weekly report their SBA lending activities, and all financial institutions may have to monthly report their SBA lending activities; and
  5. The Treasury will issue guidance for the tax-related provisions, aimed at providing liquidity to small businesses and encouraging investments in small businesses.

Together, these provisions are aimed at increasing small business lending, which is extremely important in these flagging economic times because small businesses have generated approximately 70% of net new jobs annually over the past decade.  These provisions should also provide a liquidity boost for community banks, credit unions, and small lenders, who together account for approximately 40% of all SBA-backed loans, by allowing these institutions to sell existing SBA loans and then to extend more credit to other borrowers.

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