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Business bailout immense, need may be bigger

This is one in a series of editorials that will take a closer examination into aspects of the massive coronavirus relief bill, including what works, what may not and what still may be needed. Today’s editorial examines implications for business.

For American business, the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed by President Trump last week is meant to be a fire hose of financial aid.

It is welcome relief, but probably insufficient to extinguish the raging fire consuming the economy. The federal rescue package may start to bring this blaze under control, but more water will likely be needed.

The Treasury Department will distribute $500 billion in loans to struggling industries. The bailout comes with prohibitions on corporations buying back their stock or paying shareholder dividends. The federal money imposes limits on workforce reductions and limits executive compensation.

The Small Business Administration will oversee the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program for smaller businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

This program will have great impact on southeastern Connecticut. Small businesses may get loans of up to $10 million from banks to cover eight weeks of payrolls, mortgage or rent payments, employee health care benefits and utility bills. The government could assume the loan and forgive the debt if the business keeps workers employed.

Nonprofits and tribal businesses also are eligible. Self-employed individuals, independent contractors and one-person businesses qualify.

Local banks, credit unions and lending institutions will handle the application, processing, and disbursement of funds. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said most local lending institutions are on the SBA-approved list of lenders.

The application process begins today. Publisher Tim Dwyer said The Day, hit hard by losses in advertising, is pursuing a program loan. Learn about the program here: https://bit.ly/3dNPEhV.

The program provides a lifeline to hundreds of suppliers for the region’s major employers, including suppliers for Electric Boat, Dominion Energy and the casinos. For hospitals, the program can support medical practices and vendors.

Moriama Gutierrez, Assistant District Director for Economic Development for the SBA in Hartford, said her office can guide business owners to Connecticut lending institutions.

The SBA has never managed a program of this magnitude. Gutierrez said the SBA is hiring additional staff to process applications. She is going to need all the help she can get. Her agency, and the lenders who handle the loan applications, will be severely tested.

A preview of the deluge ahead already happened in Connecticut last Friday. The state’s Department of Economic and Community Development had to hit the pause button on applications for Connecticut’s own $50 million, no-interest, Connecticut Recovery Bridge Loan. It was swamped with more than 4,000 applications the first day.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal voiced concerns about the government’s ability to ramp up quickly.

“I’m not confident, but I am hopeful,” Blumenthal said. “SBA processes the loans that go through authorized lenders. The question is how quickly will the SBA process the application.”

“If this thing fizzles out because of delays, it will be terrible,” Courtney added. “Because you can really sense that people are hanging on by their fingernails. Interest is off the charts for this program.”

Blumenthal and Courtney are conducting video conferences with chambers of commerce, business associations, bankers, and individual small businesses. Such communication is critical to making sure Connecticut takes best advantage of the help that is necessary.

Based on early indicators, the CARES Act, despite being the largest bailout in the nation’s history, may well not be big enough or last long enough to provide the support businesses will need.

Unemployment claims for the week ending March 28 soared to a record-breaking 6.6 million. Estimates are that as many as 40 million Americans may become jobless.

“I hate to be a doomsayer, but this economic crisis is going to last more than two months,” Blumenthal said. “These small businesses will need more than two months of loans to recover.”

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) already is making plans for the House to pass another relief package when it returns to session on April 22.

Blumenthal said Democrats want health care relief for people stricken with the virus, and emergency sick leave and family medical leave for employees. Blumenthal said hospitals also will need more financial support.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) expressed skepticism about another relief package. To avoid an even deeper recession, McConnell may find he has no choice.

 

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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