Tanya Weinreis’ employees are going to work today, and they’re getting paid. For the owner of the coffee kiosk company Mountain Mudd who has been severely impacted by Montana’s “stay at home” pandemic order, that’s a big deal.
Friday was the nationwide rollout of the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program. And Weinreis appeared to be the first business owner in Montana to qualify.
What that means is her 50 employees will continue to get paid for the next eight weeks. Her crew will likely still be intact as Montana emerges from a deep economic decline.
“I had to protect and take care of my employees, almost like a mom takes care of her kids,” Weinreis said. “Who needs to work, who wants to work and then also on the flipside, who needs to stay home?"
Some employees with compromised immune systems told her, "I can’t do this right now."
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"Then we will hold your job for you," she said. "We don’t know how long that’s going to be. And that’s not easy to do. To work with 50 people and do individually what’s best for them is hard.”
At Yellowstone Bank, Weinreis met Friday with Homestead Branch President Jason Hinch to finalize things after working through most of the details remotely.
They met in a conference room seated at opposite ends of a table that normally accommodates six people with elbowroom for all. The funds are meant to be available the same day a business is approved for the loan, which for Weinreis they were. All payments on the loans are forgiven as long as 75% of the money is used to keep employees on the payroll. The other 25% of the loan may be used for expenses like rent, mortgage interest and utility bills. Anything the money was spent on outside those parameters would have to be paid back at 0.5%.
The concern among lenders and borrowers is palpable. All but essential service businesses have been shut down under an order from Gov. Steve Bullock to “stay at home.” Even before then, cities and counties were ordering restaurants and bars to close in an attempt to stem the pandemic.
#COVID19 UPDATE: Due to the #CARESAct, small businesses and non-profits can get up to a $10,000 advance on an Economic Injury Disaster Loan even if your previous application was declined or still pending.— SBA South Florida (@SBA_SouthFL) March 31, 2020
Apply now: https://t.co/oarlEX4XLz
Learn more: https://t.co/tMJtxzcQPp pic.twitter.com/Lv5sbtEk6J
The Montana Department of Labor and Industry issued more than 35,000 unemployment payments in the past 12 days. Montana State University Economist Joel Schumacher said during a Thursday webinar about the economy that not in the worst week of unemployment filings during the Great Recession did Montana see the kind of new claim filings it has during the past two weeks. Montanans filed 14,704 new unemployment claims two weeks ago and another 19,540 claims the week ending March 28. In 2009, that worst week of new unemployment claims was 3,837.
Weinreis, like many business owners, spent the past few weeks watching the U.S. Senate cobble together the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Initially, the discussion was about low-interest Small Business Administration loans, something Weinreis was very familiar with. Typical SBA loans can take weeks of lender meetings and paperwork to finalize. The last thing the businesswoman needed was a loan that would be hard to make payments on during a sour economy.
But the Paycheck Protection Program was nothing like Weinreis’ previous loan experiences. Yellowstone Bank already had quarterly information about her business. They know about her payroll and a decent amount of information about her taxes. What the bank didn’t have, Weinreis provided with information easily had, like her QuickBooks records. The SBA rules for PPP required 2019 tax information, but with filing deadlines pushed into July, not all businesses have those ready. Yellowstone Bank knew how to work around it. The paperwork Weinreis had to sign Friday was fewer than six pages.
Questions about unemployment insurance and benefits? Visit https://t.co/vOkwYwcRHO for answers. *Due to an extremely high call volume, please go to the website prior to calling the hotline.* #COVID19MT #TogetherMT #TeamMontana #MTstrong pic.twitter.com/hjQS4FY1lv— Montana State Library (@MTStateLibrary) April 4, 2020
There’s an urgency to get Montana businesses approved for the Paycheck Protection Program. The CARES Act specifies that once the $349 billion is spent, the program ends. The money is not divided up among states. It’s first-come, first-served. Bankers repeatedly told Lee Montana Newspapers this week they didn’t expect PPP to last long.
“That’s why we're hustling hard to do all we can to take care of our customers quickly,” Harris said.
At midnight Thursday, Hinch was on the phone with Harris telling the bank president the crew was calling it a night. They had 75 applications ready to submit for the opening day of PPP. Apparently other lenders nationwide did also, as the website for submitting information was sputtering under the load.
The SBA and the U.S. Treasury Department have been in a rush to get the PPP launched early. President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act into law on March 27, after which the SBA and the Treasury had 14 days to roll out the programs. The effort to launch the programs in a week’s time has been like laying track from the front of a moving train.
Montana Banking Association Director Cary Hegreberg told The Billings Gazette Thursday the lenders were still waiting for final instructions on the loans Thursday, hours after SBA announced that PPP would launch Friday.
Friday, SBA phone lines were busy as a crush of banks sought authorization for PPP loans. Those challenges likely meant only a handful of Montana banks were able to submit applications on the first day. The ones that did get through were approved quickly, Hegreberg said in an email Friday.
SBA was informing Montana banks the federal government would continue authorizing loans and working the application portals through the weekend.
Weinreis’ crew was working this weekend, too. Her coffee stands will be up and running. Mountain Mudd had come a long way from the day it learned at the State Class A high school basketball tournament that the new coronavirus had landed in Montana and public events were shutting down. The business’ vending kiosk inside MetraPark was closing, too. Weinreis went home with 60 gallons of milk that day for drinks she wasn’t going to be able to sell.
Friday, Weinreis was making plans to serve $4,000 in free coffee drinks to first responders and emergency medical workers. Now’s the time work together and be kind to each other, she said. Montanans need each other.
“At my house, we had a small project and we had a concrete guy out on Friday. Even I was like, ‘I don’t know if I should be doing this. I should just cancel this project.’ But I thought ‘no, I need to continue to do my part, even if it’s just little old me. Because it does matter, me hiring that concrete guy,” Weinreis said. “And then he showed up and said, ‘Thank you for not canceling — 90% of my work just canceled.' I said ‘you’re welcome.'"