PPP loans a lifesaver for 100 Oak Park businesses

Two dozen River Forest loans approved

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

The U.S. Small Business Administration released a list July 6 of all the non-profits and businesses in the country which received $150,000 to $5 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. According to that list, Oak Park had 96 non-profits and businesses, while River Forest had 22.

The list of Oak Park recipients includes a wide variety of organizations, from dental offices and advertising agencies to nursing homes and churches. As previously reported, Growing Community Media (GCM), the non-profit which publishes Wednesday Journal and other community publications, received a PPP loan of $242,500.

PPP loans are designed to give businesses the ability to make payroll and retain its employee base during the COVID-19 crisis. The Small Business Administration can fully forgive PPP loans if recipients use the funds strictly for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. At least 60 percent of the PPP loan must be used for payroll.   

The list organizes recipients by an amount range of PPP funds given but does not include the actual amounts each organization received. Out of the Oak Park businesses and non-profits listed, 67 received PPP loans within the range of $150,000 to $350,000, including the Oak Park Arms retirement community.

Moses Williams, Jr., executive director of the Arms, 408 S. Oak Park Ave., said the PPP loan "helped tremendously" and was strictly used for payroll.

"I think that was the intent of the government to try to make sure people were able to work in these desperate times," said Williams. "These are still dire times because there are so many unknowns."

The Oak Park Arms is now free of COVID-19 cases, according to Williams. The Oak Park Arms only had six resident and three staff cases, he said.

Despite their good track record, Williams said people are worried about moving loved ones into assisted living communities.

"I think that when consumer confidence comes back, you'll find people moving back into these types of environments," said Williams. "But all I can tell you is that there's been a lot of skepticism about doing so right now."

According to Williams, the Arms has seen increased operating expenses and decreased occupancy as a result of COVID-19. With the PPP loan, the Oak Park Arms was able to retain 78 jobs, 100 percent of its workforce.

Thrive Counseling Center, Oak Park Temple and Poor Phil's restaurant and bar were among the 67 organizations that received loans within the $150,000 to $350,000 range.

Twenty-one of Oak Park's recipients fell within the range of $350,000 to $1 million, including The Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society (IWS), which provides medical, dental and social services to families who can't afford private care.

IWS Executive Director Peggy LaFleur said the PPP money was "enormously helpful."

Two-thirds of IWS patient visits are dental. From mid-March until the end of May, IWS had to close its dental practice. "We project that in that period, we missed what would have been 1,200 visits in dental," said LaFleur. "In medical, we did continue to operate, but it was greatly reduced."

Many IWS patients are on Medicaid, the reimbursement of which LaFleur called "lousy." IWS greatly subsidizes its operations through philanthropy.

Upon reopening its dental practice at a limited capacity to prevent COVID-19 spread, IWS had to buy new protective equipment for its staff. While necessary for health and safety, the new equipment came with a hefty price tag.

"I don't know what would have happened if we didn't get that PPP loan. It was invaluable," said Sheets. "We have about 34 different levels of part-time to full-time, but we retained everybody."

Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, an owner of Maya del Sol restaurant, said the business had received a PPP loan within that $350,000 to $1 million range.

"It's an extremely helpful program for the businesses," said Abu-Taleb. "What the federal government did with that sense of urgency was brilliant."

With the PPP loan, 41 jobs at his restaurant Maya Del Sol were retained.

Trinity High School and Grace Lutheran School in River Forest both received PPP loans within the range of $350,000 to $1 million as well.

Five Oak Park recipients received PPP loans of $1 to $2 million, including Hephzibah Children's Association. Fenwick High School and PCC Community Wellness Center were the only two Oak Park organizations that ranked in the highest bracket of $2 million to $5 million.

"We're using the money for the same purposes that any small business is using the money for, which is our payroll," said Merry Beth Sheets, Hephzibah's executive director.

Hephzibah Children's Association provides child welfare and family services, including foster care, an adoption program and daycare for families of all income levels.

"It really was critical for us when the pandemic hit back in early March to really think about how we can continue to keep our staff employed, and keep our children and families receiving the services that they need," said Sheets. "When a crisis like this hits, families and kids need more care and more support than ever before."

"We have a large contingent of our employees who don't have a work from home option. And not only do they not have a work from home option, but they were working in a congregate care setting, which is considered a high-risk environment," said Sheets.

With the closure of schools, Hephzibah ceased its afterschool and childcare services. The PPP loans allowed the association to keep those staff members on the payroll.

"It was our entire afterschool and childcare staff who would have been out of jobs," said Sheets.

With the PPP loans, those employees were able to transition to providing arts and craft lessons and other programming to the children in the group home – something the kids look forward to and helps establish a new sense of routine.

"It really helped us stabilize our workforce, continue to have the staff who our children know and trust here, providing them with the best possible care and help us keep our doors open and our lights on."

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Paul Clark  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 7:17 PM

I'm glad so many local organizations and businesses were able to take advantage of this program. The federal response to the pandemic had been problematic, and this program is not perfect. But at a time when local businesses were forced to either close or cut back their business severely, and not-for-profits have seen funding sources dry up, an imperfect lifeline from the federal government is better than no help at all.

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