Heather and Nathan Sanborn own Portland’s Rising Tide Brewing Company, the 11th largest brewery in Maine by volume of beer produced. With its operations all but shut down because of the coronavirus, the brewery this week received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the Small Business Administration through a local bank. While more fortunate than many smaller employers around the country in urgent need of a financial lifeline, the funding comes with it own set of challenges. Heather spoke with CBS MoneyWatch about the lending program. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you apply for your Paycheck Protection loan, and when was it approved?
Heather Sanborn: We applied last Friday, and got our approval Sunday night. Our local bank released the money into our account days later, on April 8. We received about $200,000, which is 2.5 times our average monthly payroll from last year.
It sounds like the process was relatively straightforward for you.
Well, sort of. On Monday our bank — a community bank here in Maine called Bangor Savings Bank — said they weren’t sure when the loan would be closed, because the Small Business Administration hadn’t authorized them to close loans. Then on Tuesday they said it had to close immediately because they were required to close all of their loans within five days.
So the timing of the loan is one of the challenges you’re facing?
We had hoped to be able to choose a different eight-week period during which to spend our loan. We wanted to postpone the funding of the loan in order to have it line up with a later period during which we might have more robust operations. But we were not given that opportunity, based on the way the Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department rolled out this program.
Elaborate on that — what’s wrong with how this program was rolled out?
Money is always useful, especially right now when it’s not coming in. But we were forced into a position where we had to immediately apply or risk having the funds run out. Then we were required to close immediately. If things stay the way they are, we anticipate we will be eligible for very little forgiveness — if any. And that’s pretty upsetting.
You were hoping to spend the loan in such a way that it would be fully forgiven and effectively be a grant?
That was the plan. And at this point I am forced to think of it as a loan, and the last thing I need in a situation where my business has been cut into a fraction of what it once was is to take on more debt.
The PPP was really designed to not be debt, but to help businesses that have been dramatically impacted and ordered to shut down indefinitely. For us it’s going to end up being a low-interest loan unless Congress can respond and change the rules to recognize the businesses that need it most aren’t getting the assistance that was intended by the PPP.
Can you use the money to hire back your employees — wouldn’t that qualify you for forgiveness?
Before this crisis, we had about 25 people working at Rising Tide. We have laid off all but four of our employees. They are on furlough and we hope to hire them back, but it wouldn’t make sense for us to bring them back at this point because our operations are so dramatically curtailed.
We normally have a very active tasting room and events program and we sell beer to bars and restaurants across a number of states. All of that is at a dead stop. All we can do is curbside pick-up for beer and sell beer to distributors for grocery stores and liquor stores that are still open. It’s such a small fraction of the work we were doing before.
So you wouldn’t have anything for your workers to do at this stage.
Right. Our employees were on furlough long before the PPP was passed, and it doesn’t make sense for us to immediately try and bring them back, particularly with the enhanced unemployment benefits they can access at this point.
How do you plan to use your loan?
We plan to use it to pay the employees we do still have and on other authorized expenses like rent. Then we don’t know if we will be able to bring the rest of our employees back by June 30 in order to qualify for loan forgiveness.
Do you know of other small business owners who are in the same boat as you?
Yes. My situation is quite typical of the businesses that are most dramatically impacted by the crisis, including bars, restaurants, breweries. We were among the first businesses that were first asked — and then ordered — to close in order to keep everyone safe, and yet the PPP as it’s being implemented is an incredibly bad fit for what we need.
I want to use my PPP money to help bring everyone back once it’s legal and safe for me to do that, and I won’t be able to because of the restrictions on the loan. I don’t think Congress understands this wrinkle.