Apparently, these days, my life is not complete unless there’s a dilemma in it. As you know, I have agonized for well over a week about which portions of federal assistance alphabet soup to pour into my bowl, as I have pored over their ingredients and sought assistance from any cook who might provide it.
Most of those “cooks” did not provide a lot, or even a little. People genuinely interested in helping just did not. On Friday I asked an intake coordinator for the Small Business Development Center about payroll taxes under the Paycheck Protection Program.
My question was (and still is): Are payroll taxes going to be forgiven, or treated as a loan that must be paid back? The intake coordinator’s answer: “If you go to the SBDC website, there’s a great 16-minute video on how to apply for the EIDL [Economic Injury Disaster Loan, a completely different program].” That is as fine an example of non-sequitur as you’re ever going to find, so I thanked her for her time and gave up on the notion of the SBDC providing actual assistance.
Trying to make an informed decision has informed my decision, because now that the PPP is a week and a half old, I’m pretty sure the money is gone. I had an application ready to go in a timely fashion, but that tax question could be one-third of the money provided, and I’d like to know what I’m getting. Well, now it’s probably gone and I’m not getting. I will have to take my chances on the Employee Retention Credit.
So that dilemma resolved itself, but it has brought another one up in its place, even as I recognize I am using a lot of brain cells on something I maybe shouldn’t. I am trying to decide whether I attempt to share my research with my fellow business owners in the valley.
On its surface, it seems a no-brainer — of course I should — but I doubt anyone wants to listen. Early in the county’s business task force process (another point of assistance that so far really isn’t), I let the moderators of the retail sub-group know I was following the congressional progress on business assistance, and was informed rather curtly that they had people already on that.
I also keep thinking about my days as a seasonal employee at the airport. At one point the company I worked for, Worldwide Flight Services, got its hand slapped pretty hard by the IRS for giving us flight coupons without taking taxes out of this taxable benefit.
Worldwide paid the taxes that season (and then had to pay taxes on the taxes, because that’s also a taxable benefit — do not ask me to explain the IRS to you), but at some point the following season sent employees a letter warning that taxes for flight coupons would be taken out of our final paychecks.
I used my tax tables from Pat’s and made an educated guess as to how much this might cost, then suggested to my boss, another seasonal employee, that she warn everyone that those flight coupons weren’t going to be anywhere close to “free.” She ignored me, perhaps because she didn’t understand what I was saying, or maybe she figured I didn’t know what I was talking about.
But I did know, and when I went to pick up my final paycheck (having opted out of the flight coupons), she was nearly in tears. Everyone else had come in expecting to get several hundred dollars and found instead very few dollars — and in a couple of cases, they owed Worldwide money. And they didn’t hesitate to unload their frustration on our boss.
So now I worry that my fellow business owners, who perhaps rushed for “free” money without asking questions, may find themselves stung on the back end of the PPP program, if it turns out that a third of the “grant” really is a loan that they are expected to pay back. But I’m guessing no one wants to hear that right now.
I’m already watching some of them figure out that the PPP means paying people to stay home and not work, rather than providing a means of covering costs once businesses are allowed to function in a more normal fashion. That was the point of the program, to try to keep people off unemployment (epic fail there) even if they can’t come to work, but I think desperate people heard “free money” and let details go by the wayside.
I have no idea how many local PPP applicants are going to get money, and I’m guessing that of these applicants, very few of them have even heard of the ERC and almost none know of the FFCRA, which we are all supposed to be abiding by and which would put every last one of us completely under were it not for the quietest, but easiest, federal assistance of all.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was passed very early in the not-even-close-to-a-game, stipulating that businesses with fewer than 500 employees (larger ones were exempt on the flawed premise that they already, every last one of them, offer benefits) have to provide two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 10 weeks of family leave at two-thirds pay. No business my size in the Gunnison Valley, or most other places, can afford that.
Someone in the federal government must have finally realized that, and so now while that’s still the requirement, the Treasury Department will subsidize this cost, 100 percent. And no one seems aware of this.
It is so much on the down-low that while I kept reading the information on the IRS website, directly from the feds, I was starting to wonder if I was making the whole thing up. And then I found an analysis from a legal firm on-line that matches exactly what I thought.
Once I started looking in that direction, it turns out many attorneys are weighing in on this alphabet soup — although I still haven’t found anyone addressing my PPP question. (I’m on Day Two of waiting for someone from Sen. Bennet’s staff to try to come up with that answer, so obviously it’s not clear to anyone.)
I am putting my payroll together tomorrow utilizing the 100 percent government subsidy for people staying home, and utilizing the 50 percent government subsidy for the “working hours,” and I feel like this is information that my fellow local business owners could put to work for themselves as well.
But I’m guessing most of them won’t be interested, because it’s complicated and why would I know all this stuff that their “experts” haven’t even mentioned to them? Most days I don’t feel like I have a lot of reserves in my tank, and offering up what I feel is help only to be ignored or ridiculed, as happened during last week’s task force Zoom, is just not something I can manage.
Yesterday’s Zoom was all about how we all need to work together and share information, but no one likes someone who tries to save them from themselves. I know this, just as surely as I know some people are going to be unpleasantly surprised when part of their “free” money needs to be given back, with interest.
What I don’t know is what to do about it.