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Covid-19 Small Bike Business Resource Guide: Part 2 – Maintaining Payroll

Posted by on April 3rd, 2020 at 10:26 am

(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Part two of a three-part series written by Rebecca Small and Shawn Small. See full series here.

We continue with another timely article that’s tailor-made for Portland bike businesses. On Wednesday we explained how to navigate the system and find unemployment benefits. Today we’ll share the latest links and advice for how to manage cashflow and maintain your workforce.

Part 2: Resources to help maintain payroll

“We’re going to need [our employees] after this is all over.”
— Stacy Blumberg, CEO of Portland Pedal Power

Like most small business owners, Stacy Blumberg, CEO of the cargo-bike operated food delivery company Portland Pedal Power, says her biggest concern in the midst of this pandemic is for her staff. “Will we have the work and have the resources to keep our employees working, to keep them around?” She wants to keep her experienced team together, too. Better days will return, business will pick up, and “We’re going to need them after this is all over,” Blumberg says.

Luckily, the federal government would also really like for you to retain your workforce. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act (PDF) has created a new loan program that could help you do just that, once the rollout issues get sorted out. We’ll also look at a little-known state program that has been up and running smoothly since 1983.

Paycheck Protection Program

“Our industry does not have the kinds of margins that allow paying for interest on top of all our other expenses.”
— Dave Guettler, owner of River City Bicycles

Businesses that are already facing an uncertain future don’t normally leap at the opportunity to take on more debt, and most loans need to be repaid with interest. “The tough thing is to consider the aspect of a ‘loan’, and the need to pay it back,” said David Guettler, owner of River City Bicycles. “Our industry does not have the kinds of margins that allow paying for interest on top of all our other expenses.”

But the new small business loans, made available by the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) of the CARES Act, have a special feature that should make bike industry businesses take a closer look.

This loan program was created to help small businesses of any size retain employees at full wages and re-hire those that you may have already been forced to lay off. The most important thing about these loans is that they are forgivable (i.e., they don’t have to be repaid) as long as a business 1.) maintains (or quickly rehires) employees to full-time, pre-COVID-19 headcount levels and salaries for an 8-week period, and 2.) only spends the money on approved expenses like payroll, rent, mortgage interest and utilities.

So if you’re able to meet those terms, a PPP loan is effectively more like a grant. If you can’t fulfill the conditions, then you’d have to repay a portion of the loan with interest.

Chase Bank screenshot.

If you are a small business or a sole proprietorship, lenders are supposed to begin accepting applications today (Friday, April 3). Independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply starting April 10.

This program was rolled out quickly, and at the time of writing on Thursday evening there are still significant unknowns: What will the interest rate on the loan be, 0.5% or 1.0%? Are owners’ wages eligible to be covered by these loans? It is unknown if there will be sufficient funding for every business that applies.

And major U.S. banks were sending out emails to their customers late Thursday night to alert them that they did not have enough information from the U.S. Treasury to start accepting applications on Friday.

It is still a great opportunity, despite the rollout complications, and if you’re interested in applying you should get prepared to submit an application as soon as it is possible to do so.

How to Apply:
— You will need to work with a lender or bank on this list to submit your application.
— You will need to complete the 4-page Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Application Form (current as of 4/2/20).
— You will need to provide a letter of certification that “Uncertain economic conditions require a loan to support ongoing operations.”
— You will need your 2019 Average Wage information (for example, a W-4 or a document prepared by your payroll provider).

Here is a great spreadsheet to calculate the size of the PPP loan needed for your business.

Work Share
Work Share Oregon is a state-level, Partial Unemployment Insurance program. Though it has been in effect since 1983, many business owners are unfamiliar with it. The program enables you to keep staff on payroll at reduced hours without reducing their salary by a commensurate amount: if an employer can cover at least 60 percent of an employees’ wages, Work Share will step in and backfill some of the rest.

Work Share allows both your business and your current employees to get the benefit of the payroll taxes that you pay. Employees can earn most of their normal salary and retain full benefits despite working reduced hours, while employers can retain their experienced staff and avoid the cost and delays of rehiring and training when business picks up again. Note that it does require a business to have at least 3 employees enrolled in the program, and it increases a business’ payroll taxes in the same way that a regular unemployment claim would.

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Weighing options

You’re going to want to get in line early. Pretend it’s brunch.

If you are able to obtain a PPP loan in a timely manner and if you are confident you will be able to meet the conditions, they are a great option for most employers seeking assistance in supporting your staff (or yourself, if you’re self-employed). You could then consider Work Share as a potential tool to use at a later date.

For example, you could use a PPP loan to support your whole staff for the full 8-week term of the loan, and hopefully during that time business picks back up and enables you to resume full coverage of your payroll. If it hasn’t, you can enroll in Work Share to keep some or all of your staff at part time hours and nearly full pay.

If for whatever reason you aren’t able to get a PPP loan, cannot obtain one in a timely manner, or if you don’t think that it fits your situation, you might want to consider enrolling in Work Share right away to get some help supporting your staff.

How to Apply: Employers can begin the enrollment process here. The FAQ page and Fact Sheet on the Work Share site is particularly helpful.

Finally, if you’re interested in applying for either of these programs you should get started as soon as you can. There are going to be a lot of people applying, too few workers on the other end to process them, and possibly not enough resources to go around. You’re going to want to get in line early. Pretend it’s brunch.

— Rebecca Small is a writer who translates policy and technical documents into stories and infographics for “fun”. Shawn Small is the founder/owner of Ruckus Composites and is navigating these issues right alongside his fellow small business owners.
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pruss2nySteve ScarichPat Franz Recent comment authors
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Pat Franz
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Pat Franz

Workshare is an interesting program, but it would be a better fit for today’s circumstances if the range of hours went down lower, perhaps even to 25%. 60% to 80% isn’t a good match for what’s happening out there. This is not a slowdown caused by economics, this is a near shutdown caused by a pandemic.

Steve Scarich
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Steve Scarich

It’s one thing to pass a law, and quite another to implement it. Banks are already screaming that this law is either unworkable, or so complex that people should expect to wait for months to see a dime. If you want another example, just ask anyone who has applied for unemployment compensaton in the past two weeks. Expecting a State bureaucracy to handle 2000% more applications at the drop of a hat is typical Congressional fantasy. and, oh, by the way, how many ‘bankers’ did you see the last time you walked into your local branch (which we no longer are able to due, of course)

pruss2ny
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pruss2ny

in general a huge fan of mocking govt (and corporate) bureaucracies for their inefficiencies…easy target.

but in this case the govt is offering to COVER PAYROLL/OPERATING expenses for small businesses for a few months…this may be the difference in the survival of ALOT of small businesses, and potential paychecks for alot of people…so in this case imma gonna go ahead and allow for some indigestion as they roll out this unprecedented lifeline to main street.