There is no business as usual in St. Charles Parish, as businesses large and small have faced devastating financial effects from the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic downturn.
As a result of the same thing happening in cities around the country, the historic Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, was passed in late March and clocks in as the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. It allocates $2.2 trillion in support to individuals and businesses affected by the pandemic.
One of the most important elements of the CARES Act – Brandt Dufrene, CEO, chairman and president at First National Bank USA in Boutte, said – is an initiative called the Paycheck Protection Program.
The PPP, as it’s now known, makes loans available to small businesses. Those loans become grants if business owners keep their employees on the payroll. Dufrene said the PPP offers business loans up to $10M – loans that will be made directly by private, local lenders instead of the Small Business Administration as it has been done in the past.
Corey Faucheux, parish director of economic development and tourism, said his office joined economic development colleagues in advocating for the use of local lenders.
Congress initially allocated $342 billion for the PPP, which ran out last week. In a phone interview this week, Dufrene said he was confident the Senate would approve more money for the program, which did happen Tuesday.
Because his bank has been the SBA lender for the region since 1970, Dufrene said his established connection to the SBA and their processes meant he and his team were able to quickly process applications. His team worked on Good Friday and Easter, he said, pushing through as many applications as possible before the money ran out.
Dufrene said now is the time for businesses to fill out PPP applications so that processing can be done as quickly as possible once more money is allocated. Dufrene said business owners needing assistance with their CARES Act paperwork can call his office at 985-785-8411 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. First American’s website, www.fnbusa.com, has several detailed CARES Act resources.
Results of the first PPP appropriation show that Louisiana bankers churned out 26,635 PPP loans for a total of $5.1 billion – money will directly benefit the employees of Louisiana small businesses.
“Louisiana bankers have performed an incredible service for small businesses and their employees in the state,” Louisiana Bankers Association CEO Robert Taylor said. “The data shows Louisiana bankers equaling, and in some cases exceeding, other states of similar or even larger population than Louisiana … bankers view the PPP as vitally important and have overcome issues of illness, remote working and skeletal staffing to work through a mountain of challenges presented by the program itself.”
Data indicates 74% of all PPP loans are for $150,000 or less and 60% of all loans approved were by community banks.
Faucheux said his office has been hearing from numerous concerned business owners in the parish since the pandemic started.
“We began contacting businesses in early March,” he said. “In addition to individual calls, we requested many to complete a survey to help us quantify the impacts and develop customized strategies to assist.”
Faucheux said preliminary results show about a third of the respondents are at risk if conditions don’t improve in the next six months.
“Almost half of the respondents have already released employees or anticipate layoffs in the next few weeks,” he said.
Faucheux said his office’s primary role is to ensure impacted businesses and our local lenders have all the information they need to recover from this pandemic. Because he knows the CARES Act information can be overwhelming, he said his office will work to hold virtual offerings such as Facebook Live and phone calls to help businessowners wade through the process. Once it’s safe to do so, he said his office would move to in-person meetings.
“The Economic Development Office will be ready to lead recovery efforts,” he said. “Right now, the way we can best help is to promote the businesses that are open and ensure they are getting the goods they need to remain open, and second to help those facing loses to navigate the new CARES Act benefits.”