Courts appeared to be split as to whether businesses are eligible for a Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loan under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) if you are a business in bankruptcy. The CARES Act was created to, inter alia, provide small businesses with loans under the PPP to keep their workforce employed. Uncertainty quickly arose as to whether businesses in bankruptcy were proper candidates for these loans. Neither the statute nor the initial regulation disqualified them, but the SBA later adopted an application form which specifically disqualified them. The SBA disqualification was under the rubric that business debtors pose an “unacceptably high risk for an authorized use of funds or non-payment of unforgiven loans.” Further, the SBA posits that the PPP loans fall under the category referred to as Section 7(a) loans which embody the standard of the loan being of “sound value or so secured as reasonable to assure repayment.”
Earlier this year, bankruptcy courts in Florida, Washington, New Mexico and Tennessee found debtor’s exclusion from eligibility from the SBA/PPP loans to be unlawful, determining that the exclusion of business debtors from PPP loans while in bankruptcy was “arbitrary and capricious” and a violation of 11 USC Section 525(a), which in essence provides that a government unit may not discriminate with respect to a request for a grant based solely on the fact that they are a bankruptcy debtor. Other bankruptcy courts, such as in Delaware, New York, Maryland, Georgia and Maine, have found to the contrary and upheld the SBA’s position determining that business debtors are ineligible. Most recent rulings have sided with the SBA’s position that such businesses are ineligible for a loan, noting that while the bankruptcy exclusion may be harsh, it is within the SBA’s authority. For example, see In re Cosi, Inc. Case # 20-10417 ( Bankr. D. Del. April 30, 2020)
On December 22, 2020, a three-judge panel in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court overturned a Bankruptcy Court ruling and upheld the SBA rule that makes bankruptcy business debtors ineligible for the PPP loans. See Gateway Radiology Consultants, P.A. , No. 20-13462 (11th Cir.), wherein the 11th Circuit overruled the Bankruptcy Court which had found that the SBA was “arbitrary and capricious” in exceeding its authority by disqualifying businesses in bankruptcy proceedings from PPP availability. The 11th Circuit now joins the 5th Circuit in finding that the SBA does not exceed its authority in declining to grant PPP loans to business debtors. ( In re Hidalgo County Emergency Service Foundation, 962 F.3d 838 ( 5th Cir. 2020)).
On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Bipartisan-Bicameral Omnibus COVID Relief Deal, which temporarily amended the bankruptcy code to allow PPP loans to some business debtors, but with the caveat that this change only would become effective if the SBA agrees to allow PPP loans in bankruptcy. Query as to whether this amendment changes the status quo on this issue at all, and why the SBA would do a 180 turn at this juncture.
To avoid the denial of a PPP loan, some businesses who otherwise would need bankruptcy protection have chosen to not file for bankruptcy relief at all, or once in a bankruptcy dismiss their bankruptcy to pursue PPP loans. Questions to ponder here are: whether a debtor who receives a PPP loan and then files for bankruptcy protection (as part of a pre-ordained plan) must disgorge the PPP loan, whether PPP loans received prior to a bankruptcy filing may be used as cash collateral in a later bankruptcy filing for purposes other than those allowed under SBA guidelines, the commingling of PPP loan funds with other bankruptcy proceeds, etc.
To discuss issues regarding PPP loans, creditors rights and bankruptcy or business workouts, please contact Leslie Beth Baskin, Esquire at 215-241-8926 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.