ALTONA — Brannoin Sample says, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rainbow Wedding and Banquet Hall here took advantage of the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
"Whenever the government is willing to offer some free money, my ears perk right up," he said, adding that he applied for the program via Champlain National Bank.
About a week and a brief closing later, Sample said the funds had hit his bank account.
"I immediately deposited 75 percent of that money into our payroll checking account and marked my calendar eight weeks," he said.
"I don't have any intention of paying it back — I can't afford to."
MILLIONS OF DOLLARS
The hall, an events venue on Woods Falls Road in Altona, was one of more than 200 businesses Champlain National Bank guided through the process.
Bank President and CEO Steven Cacchio said that amounted to $25-plus million in Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program funds.
The bank's 10 branches sit throughout Clinton and Essex counties, meaning those millions of dollars were helping the small business sector of the North Country.
"There was an initial $350 billion allocated to the Paycheck Protection Program," Cacchio said. "Those funds were used up relatively quickly."
And so the program was replenished, he said, adding that the replenished funds were about 60 percent depleted.
"It looks like, at some point, they may have to look at doing more."
The Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, was one of several avenues for aid under the $2 trillion federal stimulus package, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.
The program, offered through the Small Business Administration, meant to help businesses continue to make payroll, and other payments, during the continued pandemic.
"The money they are providing can be forgiven, if they utilize those funds for payroll," Cacchio said. "25 percent of the money they get can be used for other things, 75 percent is supposed to go to the salaries.
If they do that, then the entire amount can be forgiven."
With that in mind, Cacchio said documentation was key.
"We have told the businesses that they should really keep track of that," he said. "They really want to keep track of how this money was spent when it comes to the forgiveness phase."
Sample said he was documenting the funds with a ledger of "payouts for either payroll or our utilities."
"I will definitely burn the money within the next eight weeks," he said, adding that the site's utility bill was just under $2,000 per month.
Businesses with less than 500 employees at any given location, sole proprietorships, self-employed individuals, as well as 501(c)(3) nonprofits were all eligible for loans up to $10 million.
Cacchio said loan amounts were calculated for each business individually using an equation that looked at average payroll costs throughout an eight-week period — the time businesses have to spend the loaned monies.
"At this point, it is a one-time application and funding," the bank CEO and president said. "That's not to say that they will not change this. . . but right now it was a one-time opportunity to get this money."
And most businesses were accepted for funding, Cacchio said, adding that Champlain National's average loan amount was just over $100,000.
"There were a couple that maybe just didn't qualify for the program," he said of any denials. "That was very few — a handful at most."
'ABLE TO PROVIDE'
Though $25 million was small compared to the program's billions of dollars, Cacchio said Champlain National was "very glad to be able to provide that service."
"It has been extremely helpful, because many of these businesses have just been forced to close under the directives of the government," he said, "and they still have payments to make."
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