I set my alarm Thursday morning so I’d be up and online at 8:15 sharp, when Vermonters in my age group became eligible for the coronavirus vaccine. I had registered in advance, logged on to the state site the night before — to make sure everything worked — and was ready to book the first available spot.
Prior digital disappointment should have prepared me for the glitch that turned my attempted sign-up for a long-awaited jab into a COVID-19 test on Pine Street. I asked my partner whether I should cancel it and try again. “You’re yelling,” he scolded as I worried aloud how restarting might affect my spot in the queue. Then I was crying — or, more accurately, whimpering, in an overdue expression of frustration, powerlessness and grief.
It was “PPP” PTSD — a flashback to the stress of applying for Seven Days‘ first Paycheck Protection Program loan, a year ago this week. At first, nobody knew a thing about the federal rescue effort to help businesses retain their employees during the pandemic. But what I’d heard about it sounded like exactly what we needed: money to help us make payroll so we could continue to report and publish the paper; cash that, if spent correctly, would convert from a loan to a grant. To learn as much possible, I went to webinars, pestered bankers and bureaucrats, and hired a law firm in Louisiana with expertise in assisting victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The law was still being written the night before the PPP portal went live, on Friday, April 3, 2020. Seven Days had already laid off seven employees and instituted deep pay cuts across the company. The rumor was: Demand for the federal funds would far exceed the supply. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything more in my life.
Armed with equations and codes, employee counts and reports, newly hired business manager Marcy Carton and I bumbled through the online application. No one was there to answer our questions. We just did the best we could, and $443,547 showed up in our bank account on Monday, April 19.
Eight weeks later, the money was gone, spent on wages, rent, health insurance and utilities. Five of the seven laid-off employees had returned to work.
At the end of the year, Marcy and I went through the equally nerve-racking process of applying for loan forgiveness. Then came the question of whether the PPP funds would be counted as taxable income; the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service made that decision in the final days of 2020. For a gal who is loath to borrow money — and “can pinch a penny until it yodels,” as I was once described in print — the experience has been rough-and-tumble, terms not typically associated with finance.
Seven Days remains standing, a bit bruised but still swinging. Our second PPP loan was thankfully easier to secure. My first vaccine is Friday.
Here’s to more predictability, user-friendly web portals and, hopefully, prosperity in the months ahead.