An Emotional Celebration of Northwest Credit Unions’ $1.7 Billion PPP Loans

A celebration of Northwest credit unions’ 14 months of work to fund Paycheck Protection Program loans became emotional, at times, last week, as attendees recalled their teams’ efforts to stand up a complex program in mere days, and how every minute of it was worth it when they heard from grateful members.

NWCUA invited credit union teams to the virtual “Cheers to You!” event May 27, to  celebrate $1.67 billion in PPP loans credit unions in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington made possible for 38,453 businesses. They accomplished that feat in three whirlwind rounds of funding from April 3, 2020, through April 30, 2021.

“This is a moment to say thank you to the credit union family,” said Troy Stang, NWCUA President and CEO. “Slow down and take a moment to celebrate the impact you had. Congratulations for a job well done.”

Credit union-funded loans were not the behemoth amounts other financial institutions granted to big restaurant chains that made fodder for negative national news stories, but rather, they averaged under $40,000. Some loans were as small as $122. All were lifelines to business owners, their employees, and in some cases, their furry companions.

“One of our members is a horse trainer,” said Pam Weller, AVP of Commercial Lending at Wauna Credit Union in Clatskanie, Oregon. “She gets her clients at fairs and other events where there are a lot of people, and of course, with COVID, that was not happening. She needed money to feed her horses, so this loan for a few thousand dollars helped them to keep feeding their horses. If you have animals, you know they are part of the family and they bring you comfort during times like this. If they hadn’t gotten a PPP loan, they would have had to sell their horses.”

Chris Kirkley, VP of Lending for Peninsula Credit Union in Shelton, Washington, talked about a member who owns a small trucking company and was paying his drivers out of his own pocket, even though they were not able to make deliveries in the early days of the pandemic.

“If it wasn’t for the loan, he would have had to close,” Kirkley said. “This program was so much work, but when you get a call from a member and hear that it completely changed their life, it just put everything in check, and we all thought to ourselves, yeah, we can work until 10 o’clock again tonight.”

A similar story was shared in the chat by Emily Voss, a Loan Department Supervisor at White River Credit Union in Enumclaw, Washington.

“I’m so grateful,” she wrote, “that we were able to get a second draw for one of our members. They had been pulling money out of their retirement to pay their employees and this was a HUGE help to them.”

The forgivable PPP loans were established by the CARES Act, which passed March 27, 2020. By April 3, the first batch of funding was available and financial institutions worked days, nights, and weekends to get the money into the hands of business owners.

“It was a crazy journey,” recalls Monte Drake, Vice President of Commercial Services at Richland, Washington-based HAPO Credit Union. “It really brought our commercial team together and it was fun in a twisted way for us, because we all have that scar, or tattoo, we now share.”

Indeed. Not only did the program roll out at a frenetic pace, but the guidance and rules were continuously updated.

“Congress gave Treasury and financial institutions a really short runway to get  the money out,” said David Curtis, NWCUA’s Director of Compliance “This journey of the last 14 months is really your story.”

There were 30 Interim Final Rules, 19 SBA procedural notices, regularly updated FAQs, and guides for four different systems credit unions utilized to provide loans to Main Street. Throughout the process, NWCUA held forums, maintained an active listserv for the PPP community, and issued multiple updates each week to credit unions. Curtis lauded the partnership with legal partner Farleigh Wada Witt and attorney Hal Scoggins.

“From my perspective, and everyone in the law firm feels the same way,  it’s a privilege and an honor to work with people like you, who are doing such great work in the community, and who have made such a difference to the people in the Northwest states,” Scoggins said. “And I get choked up about it.”

“We can now all add to our resume that we have experience building a plane while flying it,” remarked Gayle Gustafson, SVP and Chief Lending Officer at iQ Credit Union. “At some point Hal and David became our pilots.”

Stang commented throughout the program on the collaboration between Northwest credit unions, who made referrals and helped to serve each other’s members, all in the interest of getting money to Main Street. Credit union leaders agreed.

“Each credit union does everything possible to serve members. We become possessive of their needs in a good way,” said Jim Morrell, President and CEO of Peninsula Credit Union. “ At the same time, it is awesome to know we can work together and rely on each other.”

Posted in CU Difference.