Jan 5, 2021 - Economy & Business

PPP loans return with a lot of unanswered questions

Illustration of a PPP loan application with a "no stamp" with a dollar sign on it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The stimulus bill begrudgingly signed by President Trump on the Sunday after Christmas includes $284 billion for a revived Paycheck Protection Program, which would be available to small businesses whether they received loans the first time around or not.

How it will work: We don't know. And that's a problem.

History: In April, the Small Business Administration stood up the PPP and opened the application window just seven days after the CARES Act passed.

  • Yes, there were glitches. And Treasury regularly rolled out new guidance, creating confusion for lenders and a billing bonanza for lawyers.
  • But PPP did move quickly enough that it soon ran out of money. When refreshed just three weeks later, the SBA effectively just flipped the switch back on.

Fast forward: The new stimulus gives the SBA up to 10 days to release rules on how the revived program will work. That deadline is tomorrow, although we've not received official confirmation that it will be met.

  • Similarly, no word from the SBA on when the actual application window will reopen.
  • A source says that the goal this time around is to have more complete rules (i.e., no rolling guidance) and to better educate lenders on the rules, thus preempting some of the hiccups last time around. Or, put another way, applicants should cool their heels at least a little while longer.
  • It remains unclear if applicants whose earlier loans remain under Treasury review will be eligible this time around.
  • Also worth noting that, even if the SBA does open the window in a week or so, it's likely that many application processes will span administrations — although most career SBA staff are expected to remain in place.

The bottom line: The spring's sense of urgency doesn't seem present at the SBA this time around, despite the COVID-19 surge and dire straits faced by many restaurants and other small businesses.

  • While it's laudable that the agency wants to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, it could and should have been prepared for a revived program, given the ongoing stimulus negotiations, and then tweaked as necessary once seeing the final legislative language.
  • Speed, in this case, matters.
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