Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Executive News: Well, it’s Groundhog Day … again

Have you ever been to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania? Yeah, me either. But I know what the town is all about: Groundhog Day!
It’s a cultural superstition brought to this country by early Dutch settlers long ago. Nasty little critters, groundhogs are, I’m told by my Pennsylvania friends.

The idea is the desi

Photo of Roger M. Beverage
Roger Beverage, OBA President and CEO

gnated groundhog for the day is roused from his nap and emerges to the cheers of the town’s citizens. On a clear day, if the badger-like specimen sees his shadow, he retreats to his hidey hole and prepares for six more weeks of winter.

If “Punxsutawney Phil” emerges on a cloudy or overcast day, however, he’s not likely to see his shadow. It means all is well and the entire community celebrates the coming of an early spring.

They made a movie about this event and its ceremony in 1993. Bill Murray was the main character who was caught in a time warp and kept living the same day over and over again. It’s become synonymous with the actual celebratory event in this small, western Pennsylvania town.

“So, Who cares? Why are you telling me this?” you may ask. Because it’s what the COVID-19 pandemic seems like to me. Being quarantined and confined to my home office for the past 10 months has, for the most part, made most days seem like a repeat of the day before.

What do we know as the second round of PPP loans begins to trickle out into an economy that has been virtually destroyed if you happen to be in the restaurant, travel, hotel or the adult beverage business? More of the same old, same old, I fear:

New PPP funds have been approved by Congress for both first-time borrowers and double dippers – but …

The “left hand” of the SBA still appears to not know what the “right hand” is doing, and confusion abounds, like at what point in the overall process are “double-dippers” eligible for more money? It’s not at all clear.

What started out as a method to quickly get money into the system (through the banking industry), with a wink and a nod toward paying it back (go ahead and submit your application – the debt will ultimately be forgiven), has become significantly less than that – at least the “forgiven” part.

What started out for bankers to be a lending program with minimal underwriting requirements has turned into a “blame game” of sorts:
Borrowers don’t know what to present, or know how to present the case for their respective needs.

Bankers are the ones who have to do most of the work, with minimal income to show for it.

Congress can’t agree on very much, if anything, while the nation and its economy twists slowly in the wind.

Its focus is on impeaching a former president, and that creates a political problem for Senate Republicans.

Do they vote to convict – which may torque off their base – or do they vote to acquit, which may torque off the non-base voters in their respective states?

In the Senate, the filibuster process is under attack. Only two votes stand between eliminating it altogether, or significantly weakening its original purpose.

In regards to the filibuster, for Senate Democrats now in control, what was good under Republican control (and President Trump) is no longer appropriate with Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), now the Senate Majority Leader.

Note: I’m really not trying to be partisan here – these are just the facts.

Meanwhile, the national debt continues in only one direction (up) with no end in sight, and no cohesive plan to make things better, by either party.

Small businesses are struggling mightily, if they’re still in business at all.

Unemployment is high as states struggle to help those without work, while the Dow average keeps on setting records. Who would have thought it?

We’re still working with our colleagues as we all try to come up with a workable nationwide plan to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in a more efficient and meaningful way. Unless you live in West Virginia, there has not been a whole lot of success so far.

Late last month, we sent up a trial balloon to the Stitt Administration about the possibility of incorporating banks into its COVID vaccine distribution locations. We got the idea from our colleagues at the Arkansas Bankers Association, and I thought it was a chance once again to generate some additional good publicity for the industry.

We were told, unfortunately, no thanks. The reason is because the Administration is currently overwhelmed with such offers, and they simply don’t need or want any additional confusion right now. That’s totally understandable.

Some banks are operating smoothly, but others – not so much. It’s because of the confusion around the Washington directives. Our local SBA office is doing what they can to improve things, but it’s not their fault the process has been snarled during its initial launch.

We’re doing what we can to help you interact more positively with your customers. It’s the power of the Alliance to which we belong with our partners in the other state associations and the ABA. It’s more advocates pushing the same, simple message and it keeps getting heard by decision-makers.

It’s the same with the OBA: We are continually reminded there is strength in numbers. That’s why we do what we do, for the benefit of every bank in the state.

Stay tuned.