Billings lenders are preparing for the start of what many are hoping will be the biggest economic recovery in U.S. history.
The CARES Act passed by Congress last week established the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program, all $349 billion of it, to fuel the nation's economic engine.
"Significant resources are coming out of Washington, D.C., right now," said Steve Arveschoug, executive director of Big Sky Economic Development in Billings. "Our job is to get those in the hands of employers and small businesses in our community and throughout the state, so they can start looking forward to what recovery will look like one, two, three months, six months down the road."
It's an unprecedented public-private effort to mobilize Main Street and sustain the small business world through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The operative word for the Paycheck Protection Program is "speed." Local lenders are able to use their own systems and processes to get the emergency capital into the hands of more than 30 million small businesses and their employees.
"The basic premise is to get some money into employers' hands to be able to pay employees for the next eight weeks," said Mike Seppala, president of Western Security Bank in Billings. "That's the whole goal behind this thing, is to make sure employees are getting their paychecks."
Seppala said his bank hopes to begin start processing applications as soon as possible, but most likely it will be next week before the process is ready to go.
"The money is not necessarily free. You have to earn it. There is a forgiveness section to it, but you have to earn it," Seppala said. "As a borrower, you're going to have to prove what your payrolls are, you're going to have to prove you've got those payrolls going forward during the next eight-week period in order to get forgiveness on the debt."
Another SBA program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans,, can provide capital loans for as much as $2 million per business.
The SBA's new streamlined program has an advance feature that allows qualified small business employers to get an infusion of $10,000 in cash within three days.
"What we heard initially some two weeks ago, was, 'I don't need another loan, I need cash today,'" Arveschoug said. "We were concerned with the SBA process taking too long, and those dollars not being available for weeks and weeks. But the SBA heard that message, and with the encouragement of Congress, now they have that advance feature where small business owners can get cash in a short period of time."
While the SBA has until next Friday to finalize all of the rules and details, Arveschoug and Seppala recommend that business owners get their paperwork in order now, including tax statements and payroll records, so applicants can be ready to go as soon as possible.
"We'll make a turn around with economic stimulus packages like this," said Seppala. "Things will come back. The whole lending industry is working really hard to ensure everybody gets an opportunity to take advantage of this program."