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Banks overwhelmed by PPP; may struggle with Wyoming COVID-19 relief loans for businesses

Sherrie’s Place owner Sherrie Lopez talks to customers during her first time open since closing in March during the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in downtown Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Legislature are set to consider bills which would guide the emergency appropriation of $1.25 billion in federal Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act qualifying funding which has been received by the state during a special session set to begin Friday, May 15.

House Bill 1004 and Senate File 1004 would appropriate $275 million of the overall $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding for three relief programs for Wyoming businesses. That $275 million would include:

  • $50 million for the Wyoming business interruption stipend program
  • $175 million for the coronavirus business relief loan program
  • $50 million for the coronavirus mitigation stipend program

While this $275 million would be appropriated to the Wyoming Business Council to oversee distribution, some legislators have noted that assistance in managing the loans would be needed from banks.

However, banks may be overly inundated trying to handle United State Small Business Administation Paycheck Protection Program loans to be in a position to assist with the proposed Wyoming COVID-19 relief loan program.

Wyoming Bankers Association Executive Director Scott Meier said during an online listening session with members of the legislature on Tuesday that Wyoming banks may be too overwhelmed managing PPP loans to take on the role of managing the proposed Wyoming relief loans.

“Your community bankers know the damage the current crisis is doing,” Meier told the legislators.

But he said it may be unfair to expect banks to handle the additional loan volume “while they are already dealing with PPP.” Meier added that the Wyoming Business Council is “not really set up” to manage loans.

“I’m just not sure this is a doable thing unless we have some input into it,” Meier said.

He noted that there is a general consensus among bankers that it may be preferable for the legislature to set up a grant program rather than a loan program to avoid the problems he was pointing to.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Dan Dockstader noted that “front line bankers are telling us [the money] needs to be [approporiated] in a grant category, not a loan category.”

The proposed legislation which would guide the appropriation of the $275 million in relief for Wyoming businesses has been crafted by the legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business & Economic Development Interim Committee.

That committee tweaked the language of House Bill 1004 and Senate File 1004 during a May 11 meeting held online. Under the original language of the legislation, banks would have been compensated an equivalent of 1% of total loan amounts for each loan they help manage.

During that meeting, House District 05 Representative Shelly Duncan suggested amending the language so that banks would receive a fee equal to 5% of the loan amount to match the fee banks receive for managing the federal PPP loans.

“I understand what the feds are doing, but to me that seems too high,” Senate Minorty Floor Leader Chris Rothfuss said.

House District 59 Representative Bunky Loucks said that banks didn’t receive 5% across the board for managing PPP loans, but that their fees were adjusted based on a sliding scale.

“I think 5% is way too high,” he said.

House District 15 Representative Donald Burkhart, Jr, however, said he thought 5% was the minimum banks should receive.

“They need to recoup their costs,” he said.

House District 14 Representative Dan Furphy said that it can cost banks “well over $1,000 just to put a loan on a system,” noting that for smaller loans, it may not be economic for banks to get involved.

House District 18 Representative Tom Crank questioned whether the zero interest loan program would be a disadvantage to banks offering other loans to businesses in the state.

Senate District 18 Senator Hank Coe said that he thinks banks should acknowledge the crisis the state is in and do what they can to help.

“This is a crisis we are in folks,” he said. “5% is ridiculous in my way of thinking. We’re all in this together.”

Senate District 21 Senator Bo Biteman said he thought the legislature should do away with the proposed loan program and distribute the funding in the form of grants.

“I think we are going down the wrong road here with this loan program. This needs to be a grant,” he said.

Rothfuss suggested that the committee move $25 million of the proposed $175 million for the loan relief program to the $50 million business interruption stipend program.

However, that motion failed.

The committee amended the bill to raise fees banks would receive for managing the COVID-19 relief loans to 2% of the amount of the loan.

That could see changes during the legislature’s special session Friday and Saturday.

Under the current language of the legislation to appropriate the $275 million to provide relief to Wyoming businesses, eligibility and awards for each of the three programs that would be created is as follows:

  • $50 million Wyoming business interruption stipend program:
    • Wyoming owned and operated businesses with 50 full time employees or less as of March 31 who experienced interruptions due to COVID-19 public health orders
    • $15,000 to maximum $50,000 awards (depending on number of employees)
    • preference given to businesses which didn’t receive federal PPP funding
  • $175 million coronavirus business relief loan program
    • Wyoming owned and operated businesses with 100 full time employees or less as of March 31 who were “adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or by required closures”
    • 0% interest loans of up to $300,000
  • $50 million coronavirus mitigation stipend program
    • “to reimburse COVID-related expenses that an eligible business actually incurred between March 1, 2020 and December 1, 2020”
    • can include costs of cleaning products, personal protective equipment, training expenses, etc.
    • maximum $500,000

The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.