The Small Business Administration ("SBA") recently released new guidance that may impact businesses that have previously received a Paycheck Protection Program ("PPP") loan. Under the new guidance, a business may no longer be considered PPP loan eligible, and the certifications they made in applying for such loan could be considered made in bad faith. However, if a business repays the loan in full by May 7, 2020, the SBA will deem the business to have made its certification in good faith.
Ordinarily, to be eligible for an SBA Section 7(a) business loan, businesses must be unable to obtain credit elsewhere. The PPP waives this "credit elsewhere" test, thereby expanding greatly the pool of potential business applicants. However, the PPP requires that a business certify in good faith that "[c]urrent economic uncertainty makes [its] loan request necessary to support [its] ongoing operations."
Prior to April 23, 2020, the SBA had offered little guidance on the meaning of this certification. But in the wake of high-profile publicly held companies returning their PPP loan proceeds, the SBA clarified on April 23, 2020, that this certification requires businesses to "take into account their current business activity and their ability to access other sources of liquidity sufficient to support their ongoing operations in a manner that is not significantly detrimental to the business." The SBA stated further that "it is unlikely that a public company with substantial market value and access to capital markets will be able to make the required certification in good faith, and such a company should be prepared to demonstrate to the SBA, upon request, the basis for its certification." Unfortunately, neither "substantial market value" nor "access to capital markets" was defined.
This guidance raises potential issues for businesses who have already received PPP loans. Business recipients of a PPP loan must consider whether, in light of the SBA's new guidance, its certification of need ("necessary to support ongoing operations") remains accurate and made in good faith. This applies with equal force to private and publicly held companies.
However, the language in the SBA's new guidance raises especially difficult issues for publicly held companies. Despite meeting PPP size and affiliation requirements, publicly held companies need to consider whether they have "substantial market value" and "access to capital markets" given the lack of definitions of these terms. Further, the SBA's requirement that businesses analyze "their ability to access other sources of liquidity sufficient to support their ongoing business operations" appears to directly contravene the waiver of the "credit elsewhere" test.
While the SBA's language does not preclude all publicly held companies from obtaining a PPP loan, given the SBA's explicit example of an ineligible business as one that is publicly held, these companies must take extra precaution in analyzing their certification of need. Without further clarification on what constitutes "substantial market value," even publicly held companies with relatively small market capitalization must analyze whether they remain eligible.
Consequences of Bad Faith
Making a false statement in connection with obtaining a PPP loan can lead to serious consequences, including, but not limited to, criminal liability. However, on April 24, 2020, the SBA issued a supplemental Interim Final Rule on the PPP, providing a safe harbor for any business that applied for a loan prior to April 24, 2020, but now believes it is ineligible for lack of need. So long as such business applicant repays the loan in full by May 7, 2020, the SBA will deem the business to have made its certification in good faith.
Best Practices for Good Faith
Reports are emerging that some public companies of relatively large size are determining that they can retain their PPP loans despite the unclear language of the SBA guidance, while other companies are repaying their loans. Companies retaining the loans may have relied on language in the guidance that they are eligible if they are not able to "access other sources of liquidity sufficient to support their ongoing operations in a manner that is not significantly detrimental to the business." Given the requirement that the certification must be made in good faith, we encourage companies that conclude that they are eligible to obtain or retain the PPP loans in light of the SBA's guidance to carefully document their analysis in support of this conclusion.
We Can Help
Please contact Maslon's Corporate & Securities Group if you have questions or need assistance analyzing your eligibility for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.