Applying for assistance from the CARES Act.

Tammy Scott helps her husband apply for the assistance from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act

“The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar...”

So sings Annie in the musical bearing the famous little orphan’s name.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its tragic toll, it’s difficult to see sunshine. My prayers continue to go out to the many afflicted and affected.

A sobering economic toll also mounts. Some relief for our country’s commerce is coming, however, as long as politics permit.

One definition of “politics” is “who gets what, when, where and how.”

As a political science major at UC Riverside back in 19 never mind, I encountered several memorable definitions of that word. My favorite: “the pursuit of incompatible goals.”

The goal of providing quality live theater in Redlands, and the goal of securing funding for its survival, are as incompatible as any two goals could be.

Folks are understandably sheltering in place as we all should. But doing so, of course, cuts off critical revenue for non-essential businesses, which are still a key component of our economy.

There are an estimated 27,281,452 small businesses in America, including several thousand in Redlands alone. The Redlands Chamber of Commerce tells us that the economy of this town employs 41,716 people out of more than 70,000 residents. Many of these employees owe their livelihoods to small business.

Community theaters and other arts organizations are small businesses if ever there were any.

As the founder of a live theater company now in its 26th season, I was delighted to learn about the CARES Act relief package recently passed by Congress and signed into law one week ago. This legislation should be a welcome boon to small business owners everywhere.

The act provides a fund of up to $350 billion for small businesses applying for the Payment Protection Program. This program offers incentives for employers to keep their employees on the payroll. It provides necessary cash flow. The money becomes a grant once documentation shows that employees were retained by these funds.

The theater I represent employs 11 full and part-time staff. We welcome and serve more than 30,000 guests annually from all over the Inland Empire. I want to keep these dear staff members employed. And I want our company to exist after the pandemic subsides.

We’re fighting for our survival. So are millions of other arts organizations and the dedicated employees of many small businesses.

The path to receiving this aid, however, continues to be a needlessly long, difficult process. And here’s where my gloves come off.

All good dramas feature villains posing conflicts. In the case of applying for the CARES Act relief, the villains here are some well-known banking institutions.

On Friday, April 3, the first day small businesses could apply for assistance, Bank of America told applicants that they needed to have a business account with the bank. That is reasonable.

What is unreasonable is that the bank required applicants to also have a “lending relationship.”

If a small business had not borrowed money or held a business credit card with the bank in the past, the application for funds was automatically denied. The same was true for small businesses attempting to apply through Arrowhead Credit Union, Wells Fargo, and others.

No one expects the roll-out of a historic government relief program to be perfect — especially when the new legislation is 880 pages long. But everyone knew it was coming.

Why did large banks initially make applying for and getting this aid so difficult? Banks are supposed to be the conduit for funding distribution and not arbitrary gatekeepers.

It is not the bank’s money. It is tax money you and I have contributed to the U.S. Treasury that has been redirected by Congress and the president to assist commerce and restore our economy.

And what about churches, nonprofits and other businesses who seldom borrow money? Why were they initially disqualified?

After howls of protest aired on social media, chief executive Brian Moynihan at Bank of America was among the first to change course by dropping the “lending relationship” requirement. Terrific! But why were protests necessary?

When the arts community roars back to life, as it always does, it won’t be because certain banks rushed in to be helpful in a time of crisis—not even for longstanding clients. We need to keep a wary eye on them.

But we’ll get through this. Bet your bottom dollar.

Wayne R. Scott is an award-winning writer, producer and director who serves as president of LifeHouse Theater, Redlands.

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