While much praise has rightfully been heaped upon healthcare heroes on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, treating what ails the economy as businesses begin reopening are unsung essential workers: bankers.
In addition to the $2 trillion federal COVID-19 relief package that granted assistance in March to businesses, individuals, and localities, many banks and lending institutions are offering various forms of forbearance — penalty-free deferred payments, interest-only payments, and more — to help their customers stay afloat during the unprecedented turmoil.
“There’s a whole host of capabilities that both individuals and businesses should avail themselves of,” says John Buran, president and CEO of Uniondale-based Flushing Bank. “If you think you’re gonna have some difficulty, contact your bank as soon as possible because they can help you through it with a variety of useful programs.”
The bank was among those that helped dole out a combined $349 billion nationwide as part of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) made available to help small businesses keep their workers employed through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Flushing is currently processing $800 million in relief requests.
“These are unprecedented times and we recognize that small businesses in our market are struggling to manage through this crisis,” Buran says. “Small businesses play an important role in the economic health of our local communities and will be vital to our economic recovery. As a community bank, it is our job to partner with small businesses in our communities to provide support when it is needed most.”
He expects the second round of the PPP, passed in late April, to get depleted about as quickly as the first round did, but Buran noted that there are additional programs available for small and midsize companies, such as the Main Street Lending Program.
“The [Federal Reserve] is going to provide liquidity to encourage banks to offer loans to slightly larger companies,” he says. “There’s $600 billion worth of liquidity for these types of loans that they’re putting out.”
As for Flushing Bank itself, like many banks, several of its two dozen branches are closed, those that are open are by appointment only, most employees are telecommuting, and customers are encouraged to do their banking online, Buran says.
He adds, “It’s important that if you’re a business, before you miss a payment on your business loan, contact your bank.”