govt help 0420
Still as pertinent as it was whatever decade ago I put it on the fridge.

A few years back my book group read a best-seller, Unbroken, about one man’s incredible ordeal in World War II where his situation went from bad to worse to dire as his plane crashed in the middle of the Pacific; he made it to a small life raft and then drifted, eventually pushed by the currents into the hands of the Japanese, who were not kind to their prisoners.

And when I say “read,” I mean other members of the group did this. I started the book, and was making headway, but as his situation just got worse and worse, I couldn’t bear to read anymore. Obviously it ended in an okay place, because he “lived to tell the tale,” but after a plane flew directly over his raft without seeing it (causing him to wonder how many helpless rafts his aircraft had overflown) and the current started taking him toward internment, I couldn’t bear to go further.

It turns out that asking the federal government for help follows this same sort of progression, not that I mean to conflate my situation with that of a prisoner of war. But it does feel like the lifelines being thrown out are just for sport. As you reach for one, the person holding the other end pulls it just that far away from you: Oops, missed. Try again.

I spent the weekend e-mailing a woman who contacted me through StartUp Colorado, whatever that might be. I was trying to navigate the differences between the PPP and the ERC, but she wasn’t familiar with the ERC. She couldn’t find me a solution to the part where you can’t apply for the PPP unless your bank is already affiliated with the SBA, although she was far more dogged about that than I expected.

She thought Lendio might be an option, but that turned out to be a marketplace that shops loans around, with lots of complaints on She said might accept applications; she forwarded the names of bankers, including the one in Gunnison we’ve already spoken to who so far — not for lack of trying — seems unable to break into this “help” system.

The local chamber directors keep e-mailing, and one of their missives noted that a downtown merchant had found favor at Community Banks. So I called their Gunnison branch yesterday morning.

I had to wait on hold long enough to fill out a form that I hope undoes the unemployment application that Six Points filed on behalf of Jeff, whom we haven’t laid off (wondering all along the way if I might not just make them do this over in a month or two), but a banker finally took my call and said yes, he is accepting applications from non-customers, except that my application will be put at the bottom of his pile and I have to become a customer, because he needs someplace to put the loan money. He would send the application packet, via e-mail, “shortly.”

Our ideas of “shortly” differed by a wide margin, and two hours later I called back to politely check on the accuracy of the e-mail I gave him. Six forms, three of them asking for the exact same information, eventually arrived. Please use the application dated 4/20, not the one that says 3/20.

I could open the Word document that lists the requirements for this “emergency” money: articles of organization. Management agreements. The six attachments. Drivers licenses. Payroll reports for January and February, please submit each payday for February separately.

I couldn’t open the Excel documents that were two of the attachments because we’re still on Office 2007. Yes, I know I can pay $100 (that’s the home use price; business price is three times that amount) to upgrade to Office 365. I can upgrade to Quickbooks on-line for a mere $300. It’s only $1 per hour per employee raise for 2020 and only $75 per month rent increase and only .02 per kilowatt hour electricity cost increase and only $4 per trash run increase and only some unspecified number of weeks that your downtown business has to remain closed while anyone and everyone can wander with impunity in and out of every single damned store on Gunnison’s perimeter and no way of knowing if it’s just the spring that’s lost or if it’s going to be the entire summer as well . . .

And in the middle of this James still has a sore throat but never bothered to locate a doctor (Kara, who also bought him Mucinex and Flonase, found him a tele-doctor for $19) and Fortino isn’t sure how to pay his utility bill on-line — and maybe we should get some work done. . . I still have no idea how to reconcile paying everyone their full wage while some are working full-time and some, due to public health orders, aren’t working at all, and James didn’t do anything about his sinus infection for a week but we wouldn’t let him come to work . . .

My sister Terri helped me with the Excel forms, and here’s the difference between managing your own business versus federal assistance: to figure my average monthly payroll for 2109, I thought I would take the year-end total and divide by 12. Obviously, I thought wrong. Why do that when a 20-slot worksheet can be devised?

This worksheet wants you to put in the 2019 total, and then subtract from it — pay attention to this — federal taxes from Feb. 15 through June 30, 2020. Also, the government is not about to pay for any foreigner, regardless of immigration status. If your employee’s principal place of residence is another country, we’re not paying.

So if this loan, which is really a grant but perhaps actually a loan, requires you to subtract 20 or more percent percent, possibly going back to a month prior to the business being shut down, then maybe the ERC is a better option.

Do you suppose there’s a single person in the entire country who knows what’s going on?

While trying to decipher the ERC for the 40th time, on an IRS page that does not tell you how to enroll in this program or what documentation might be required, I noticed the FFCRA (I think), which appears to be a tax credit for the leave that got mandated that no one adhered to, laying employees off as businesses were forcibly shuttered. Apparently you can use both the ERC and FFCRA if they apply to different employee hours . . .

I am about ready to take a pass on dubious “help” from the federal government that may  cost most of the money it offers and requires a ream’s worth of electrons to fill out. If it was clear what you were getting when, and how much needs to be paid back, that would be really helpful. But no: figure your 2019 payroll by subtracting 2020 payroll taxes that haven’t yet been assessed.

“We’re from the government and we’re here to help you.” I thought that was what I needed, but now I’m not so sure.

I had good news for all of us: my friend Paul yesterday got off his ventilator and moved out of the ICU at St. Mary’s. This morning, though, bad news arrived, also from St. Mary’s: Bob Teitler, granola customer of Lynn’s and father of my college trivia teammate David, lost the fight I didn’t even know he was in with covid-19 to become our county’s second death. 

Please be careful out there.



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