During the past few days, area bankers have not been getting much rest.
Like soldiers in battle, local banks and bankers are the tip of the sword in the federal government’s fight against the economic damage the coronavirus is exacting on individuals and businesses across the nation, including here in your hometowns.
Almost as important to the fight as healthcare professionals working to stop the spread of the deadly contagion and treating the ill, local bankers have mobilized as the federal government’s frontline soldiers to do much the same for our nation’s embattled economy. They are fighting to save jobs and businesses and perhaps the American way of life.
Bankers have to help keep local economies alive — because no one else is in a position to do it.
In the past week, as the federal government has been trying to work out the mechanisms necessary to deliver help to local economies through the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (known as CARES), local bankers have been working long hours trying to get a handle on the constantly changing rules involved in the program.
Nothing for them has gone easily.
As of the writing of this column (or perhaps I should say rewriting of this column), banks were still receiving instructions from the U.S. Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration (SBA) even though our nation’s president, Donald Trump, and treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, prematurely told the American public the program was up and running.
Trump went so far as to describe the program as “flawless,” then bragged, “I don’t even hear of any glitch.”
Those misleading, self-promoting statements have made local bankers’ jobs even harder.
Given the size of this national undertaking, the lack of resources the federal government has available in local communities, and the speed at which the program needed to be put in place, it’s understandable that the program’s rollout is imperfect. Political leaders need not say otherwise.
The SBA, the government agency ultimately responsible for overseeing the effort, is staffed to manage around $35 billion in loans, not the $349 billion that will be distributed through CARES. The federal government also lacks any direct way to get money in the hands of small businesses fast enough to stave off additional layoffs without the help of local banks.
To speed up the process, the SBA is asking local banks to not only manage the front end of the program but to also use their own capital to finance the government-backed loans – and at terms not particularly beneficial to the banks.
To put this big ask fully into perspective, we must ask this question: In tough times what do most businesses want to do? The answer is that they want to conserve cash.
To make this program work, the government is asking banks to do the exact opposite.
And, for the sake of us all, they are doing it.
Reynolds should order Iowans to stay home
The New York Times reported last week that more than half of the people living on this planet are under a stay-at-home order as part of the global effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. That includes most Americans, but a few holdout states, such as Iowa, have stubbornly resisted.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, for some reason, has not heeded the well-documented advice coming from scientists around the world. It’s obvious that a stay-at-home order is necessary. Reynolds should be taking the strongest measures possible to keep the people of her state safe.
She should realize that the fastest way through this crisis is to fully engage in the global effort to identify and isolate those who are infected. Without enough tests to go around — which is clearly the situation Iowa is facing — a stay-at-home order is essential. It’s also an important early step toward being able to someday restart the economy.
Reynolds should stop waiting for the inevitable and give the order today.