Stranger Times

region 10 0420I was not seeing phantom deer in my yard the other bright night. I remembered to check Monday night, and if it was vegetation it should still sit out there looking like a deer, right? But no, no fauna- (or fawna)-looking flora. Last night, out the laundry room window on an even brighter night, I thought my eyes were doing this again — until this phantom moved and I counted three deer helping themselves to the grass next door.

There’s something calming about watching deer graze by moonlight, but in general bright moonlit nights are rarely my best, and as I do on so many of them, I had non-stop dreams. This morning I can’t tell you much about them, just that they featured a bunch of people I didn’t know.

Always Jungian and never Freudian, my best analysis on offer is that this stemmed from the Zoom meeting I sat in on yesterday afternoon. It was the retail-services subgroup of the county’s business task force, and it featured a guest speaker from Region 10, an agency based in Montrose or Delta that exists to help businesses and seniors, which seems a weird combination to me but whatever.

I imagine my dreams were filled with strangers because I recognized so few of the names or the people on Zoom. A large number of the little rectangles offered only a written name. In Kara’s case, it’s because her work computer offers neither a webcam nor microphone.

So here I sat with my virtual fellows who don’t seem to be any of the merchants I know and interact with on a regular basis, listening to a public official tell us about half of the alphabet soup that is dominating our days. She was there to talk about the PPP and EIDL, both administered by the SBA; I had been hoping she could shed some light on the ECR and FFCRA, both offered by the IRS. As Kara said later, WTF?

We have, all of us, been rushing around in a blind panic trying to fill out forms for the Paycheck Protection Program, as I did first last Wednesday, then again Friday, then again Monday. The first bank we tried, which wasn’t particularly interested in helping us since our company doesn’t bank there, announced during the Zoom meeting that they had finally succeeded and were finally able to start processing applications.

The second bank I tried, Wells Fargo, called me back prior to the meeting to say that while it doesn’t seem to say in the legislation that banks should only help their own customers, that’s what they were doing, and I was not eligible. Since I had already moved on and forgotten about them, this didn’t sadden me. And by meeting time, it turned out that Wells Fargo, due to serious missteps and shady dealings in its past, had reached a federally-imposed cap that won’t be eased even for this crisis, and it can’t process any other PPP loans. Leaving their customers stranded.

[As the US Supreme Court noted in a wee-hour Tuesday decision, there is no reason to break with due process in ordinary times like these.]

During the meeting, it seemed to start dawning on many participants that maybe the PPP isn’t the brass ring it seemed to be in the first place. My question, about how much of the loan will not be forgiven, got brushed over quickly. I still want an answer. If up to 30 percent of payroll expense is federal taxes that won’t be forgiven, and 75 percent of the loan must be used on payroll, it seems to me (although I could easily be wrong, since no one can give me clear answers), that you could be on the hook for several thousand dollars you’ve been told to treat as a grant.

The other thing people started to realize is that this money needs to be used on payroll for the eight weeks after it is awarded. We are fairly shut down by county and state (but not national) order. The Region 10 person (whose name was Nancy, but I don’t remember her last name or her title) assured us we could pay our personnel to sit on their couches and watch TV, but business owners at the meeting seemed to wonder why they would want to do that when they then have to come up with additional cash afterward to fund employees once they might actually be able to come to work.

The point of the program was to try to keep people at their jobs and off unemployment, but if the government pays people to not work, and then after eight weeks the employers have to put these same people on unemployment, then money is just shifting from one pot to another. Of course, I say that from a state where unemployment seems to generally help people, as opposed to some states where their unemployment programs are purposely designed to give money to only 20 percent of the applicants (cough, Florida).

My last question was “Who can explain the ERC?” Nancy’s answer, followed by a laugh, was “Oh, I don’t know anything about that!” Well, I asked who could help me, and this is no laughing matter to me.

After the meeting I called a merchant I did recognize from the meeting to suggest she look into the ERC because it might, as I’m suspecting it might for Pat’s, be a better fit, and she said the part of the meeting that really got her was when Nancy said she felt for us, but had never filled out one of these forms herself.

Which I think is the flaw at the bottom of all of this. It doesn’t matter how sincere and earnest a public official’s intent to help is, from the county up to the questionable national level, at the end of the day that official goes home with full pay and usually benefits that the official often takes as automatic, without ever being aware that this adds an extra 25 percent above what they consider to be their pay.

Nancy yesterday, with a perfectly straight face, reminded us owners that the PPP will only cover the first $100,000 of our personal pay. Well, perhaps this will put a crimp in our lifestyles, but we’ll try to manage.

We’ll have to hold off on funding the 401Ks we might not have; we may have to forego making premium payments on the health insurance we may or may not have; and sick and vacation days that are never guaranteed anyway have gone by the wayside. We may, as some in Gunnison already have, just lock the door and walk away. Closed, done.

People who have the luxury of laughing at their ignorance of the alphabet soup that is going to be the only thing that props up businesses in this country may think they feel the pain and outright terror of every “non-essential” business, but they don’t — at least not yet.

While groceries are increasing sales, there’s going to come a point when all the sales tax lost from every little hundred-thousandaire on Main Street starts to put a bite on public budgets. While cities can stop paving streets, Region 10 has no asset to cut but its personnel. Maybe at that point questions like mine won’t be as easily dismissed — nor officials’ ignorance nearly as funny.

I tried to provide visual proof of moonlit deer, but the camera couldn’t see them. Perhaps they were phantoms after all.

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