Emergency Program Rollout Left Out Too Many Community Banks and Their Customers

Apr 03, 2020

Rebeca Romero Rainey

By Rebeca Romero Rainey

“We have 80 loans now for $20 million sitting in our hands and unable to input to SBA. I saw a headline on CNBC an hour ago that B of A has now submitted 60,000 applications for $6 billion…again while we still wait to get in the system.”

“FYI, we have 15 or so lenders in the SBA queue to be approved E-Tran users and we’re on hold for some reason. Anything you are hearing relative to opening up the E-Tran portal or approving more folks who can input? It’s a simple process and we're already delegated authority, so not sure.”

“We are still not able to get into the SBA site…and when we do it likely will not be able to handle the volume. Our customers are frustrated.”

"This is crushing. We have really done our work as a community bank and now the door has been shut on our community and us."

These are just a few of the many messages I’ve received over the past few hours from my fellow community bankers who are all rightfully frustrated and, in many cases, livid. We all want the $349 billion program to work so small businesses can protect their workers. Unfortunately, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) rollout today did not work for many of the nation’s community bankers. In my opinion, one community bank left out is one too many.

While a handful were able to move forward with loans, too many strong community bankers had no access to the program as one of the promised online portals never went live today, and bankers were placed on hold for hours, unable to help the customers who were counting on them. This is a nightmare situation for any community banker whose mission is to help the customers and communities they serve.

While the intentions of the PPP are admirable, and every community banker wants to do their part to help struggling local small businesses—their hands were tied on Friday as they found themselves unable to complete the process with SBA to help their customers. Too many community bankers rang the alarm and told me that after being on hold for hours, they were either disconnected or directed to someone unable to help them.

When the stakes are high as the needs of the customers who depend on you, this is simply unacceptable.

On behalf of the nation's resilient and relied-upon community banks, ICBA continues to press the administration to consider their needs and get the PPP opened up to them immediately. We must help our customers and communities during this time of distress—anything less is a disservice to them and the relationship banking business model our industry is based upon.

ICBA has been vocal since the beginning of this process. ICBA and state community banking associations this week have worked with Treasury and the SBA to help ensure that the PPP would work for community banks and their small-business customers.

While we are grateful some of our concerns were addressed, many community banks were nevertheless put at a disadvantage as the program launch began. I ask the administration to work with us to make things right—for the benefit of community banks and their customers and communities, who cannot be left behind in the race to help during this most critical time.

Rebeca Romero Rainey is president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America.