Applications to the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans to small businesses and nonprofits impacted by COVID-19, opened April 3.
The program is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which has allocated $350 billion in federal funding as an incentive for organizations to keep workers employed amid the economic fallout of the pandemic.
The federal Small Business Administration will forgive loans if businesses and nonprofits keep all employees on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for qualifying expenses including payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities.
Most Jewish nonprofit organizations with 500 or fewer employees, including federations, JCCs, Hillels and synagogues, are eligible for these funds.
“The Paycheck Protection Program will be an incredibly valuable tool for (Jewish) Federation, businesses in our community and the Jewish not-for-profit world,” said Steven Rosenberg, chief operating officer at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. “We are also blessed with having an umbrella organization, JFNA, which has done exceptional work in taking 800 pages of legislation and putting it into very simple-to-understand terms. They have assembled a team of financial and legal experts to help people with their applications. My guess is every Jewish organization in the city will apply.”
JFNA held a Zoom webinar on April 2 to provide updated information for organizations planning to apply for the loans.
“Stay calm. Ignore rumors,” advised Dennis Bernard, president of Bernard Financials and a Jewish community leader in Detroit. He explained that viewers would have to access the online portal that banks will be using to process the applications.
“With every single day, we realize how much we’re moving into uncharted waters,” said Mark Wilf, chair of JFNA’s board of trustees. “As someone who has run a business myself, I can tell you this will not all go smoothly, but we will get this help into the hands of organizations that need it.”
JFNA Executive Vice President Mark Gurvis told nonprofit leaders and small business owners to expect some challenges.
“There’s going to be a lot of turmoil in the lending community. The bankers are all trying to figure out how to get things moving,” he said.
Gurvis explained that the loans are for amounts up to $10 million, with a 0.5% interest rate. Payments can be deferred for up to six months and interest accrues until repayment. Applicants must calculate their average monthly payroll costs over 12 months and multiply it by 2.5. These costs can include parsonage, but not federal payroll taxes.
Eric D. Fingerhut, JFNA’s president and CEO, said the funds will be available to faith-based organizations like synagogues and churches, even if they don’t have 501(3)c paperwork for registered nonprofits.
Fingerhut also told viewers they could expect more funds to be made available in the future.
“The Secretary of Treasury is quoted as saying he supported an expansion of the pool. I spoke to the White House about it. It is absolutely on people’s radar,” he said.
The SBA claims applicants can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union and Farm Credit System institution that is participating.
However, David Gold of Jewish Federation’s board of directors, has observed that many of these financial institutions are scrambling to contend both with the speed at which the new regulations are being released and the high numbers of applications to process.
“The challenges are, frankly, making sure your banking institution is ready to accept the applications as soon as possible,” Gold said. “What I’m finding today is a lot of the banks just weren’t prepared for this. The SBA and the government came out with this program very quickly, and they just didn’t have enough time.”
Gold said the SBA and federal government have taken steps to streamline the application process by simplifying the application to a two-page document and providing more guidelines to banks.
Even in the face of logistical issues, Gold believes the funds will act as a lifeline for organizations that have been hit hard by the pandemic and face an uncertain eight weeks ahead. He hopes the loans will allow qualifying organizations to avoid major layoffs.
“Most of the loans will be forgiven so long as organizations use the funds as they are intended — to keep staff on payroll,” he said. “It’s going to go a long way to help organizations that have been severely hurt by this crisis.”
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