Sun Logo

When the Paycheck Protection Program went into effect, 237 local companies in the immediate coverage area of the Winter Haven Sun and Polk News-Sun signed up.

That helped support or save 12,218 local jobs in the immediate areas of Winter Haven, Lake Wales and Bartow, according to data released last week by the Small Business Administration on the cases filed under the federal program.

New legislation being offered in the U.S. Senate right now could extend those provisions and/or provide more funding.

The Winter Haven Sun and Polk News-Sun benefitted from a loan through its parent company, D-R Media and Investments. President David Dunn-Rankin praised the program for allowing D-R Media to hold on to all of its employees.

“When the economy fell off a cliff in the second half of March we didn’t know what to do or what the future would entail,“ Dunn-Rankin said July 9. “So we kept all the staff but reduced wages until we could see if this downturn was a blip or the next Great Depression.”

He said advertising revenue dropped 42% in April, suggesting the nation was entering another “Great Depression,” which would have prompted any business to batten down the hatches and reduce employee headcount to offset lost revenue.

“We have about 100 employees and the thought of that kind of potential layoff churned my stomach,” Dunn-Rankin said. “I believe great employees are the secret to business success.”

Instead, the company reduced print days on daily papers, such as the Highlands News-Sun in Sebring, from seven to five and looked for other solutions.

“This allowed us to restore everyone to full pay and keep 100% of our employees,” Dunn-Rankin said.

The Paycheck Protection Program, put simply, was a single loan from the SBA to help small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll in the midst of economic downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mandatory shutdowns over the last two months, in an effort to reduce infection rates, reduced revenue for local businesses dependent on walk-in customers and, in the case of local newspapers, advertisement from those businesses.

As long as businesses meet employee retention criteria and the funds are used for eligible expenses, the SBA will forgive the loans.

Since the start of June, when many states started relaxing their shutdown rules and businesses have reopened, infection rates have rebounded. In some cases, as with Florida, those rates have dwarfed numbers that prompted the first shutdowns.

As some businesses, either voluntarily or by government order, have had to shut down again, there has been concern for a resurgence of layoffs or business closures.

To answer these concerns, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) have introduced the Reviving the Economy Sustainably Towards a Recovery in Twenty-twenty (RESTART) Act. It proposes extending the eight-week PPP compliance period to 16 weeks, adding another two months for the hardest-hit businesses — which have seen revenues decline by at least 25% — more time to meet requirements for loan forgiveness.

According to releases from the senators’ respective offices, the RESTART Act includes a new loan program to cover six months of payroll, benefits and fixed operating expenses for those hardest-hit businesses.

A portion of this new loan would get forgiven based on revenue losses suffered by the business in 2020. The rest would get repaid over the next seven years, with no interest payments due in the first year, and no principal payments due for the first two years.

The senators state that it’s designed to provide small- and medium-sized businesses with liquidity to get their businesses up and running again, and ensure that they receive loan forgiveness to help fill in the gap caused by revenue declines.

D-R Media publications contacted the offices of Florida’s United State Senators for comment.

Nick Iacovella, with Senator Marco Rubio’s office, said Rubio, chair of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, has reconvened the bipartisan small business task force, which is currently working towards consensus on a final agreement for the next phase of small business support.

“It is clear that financial damage from the pandemic will continue to impact small businesses even as the economy reopens. To meet these changing conditions, PPP and additional long-term recovery capital must be the priority for the next relief package,” Rubio said. “I will continue to work with my colleagues on the small business task force to reach a bipartisan agreement on a targeted second round of PPP for underserved firms and for additional resources for long-term resiliency.”

Clare Lattanze, deputy press secretary for Senator Rick Scott, stated that he is reviewing every option to make sure individuals and small businesses hurt by the coronavirus are getting the help they need.

She said Scott is thankful that programs like the Paycheck Protection Program have helped so many small businesses in Florida and across the nation [to] “stay afloat during this unimaginable time. But companies that haven’t been harmed at all by the coronavirus crisis should not have the ability to receive taxpayer-funded loans that can be forgiven — which takes money away from those that truly need it.”

The SBA resumed accepting PPP applications on July 6, and the new deadline to apply is Aug. 8, 2020. Read more at https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program.

Winter Haven Sun and Polk News-Sun Editor Steven Ryzewski contributed to this report.