This blog was intended to be posted a few weeks ago, however every time I was set to upload this, I heard the voice of the late TV pitchman Billy Mays saying “But wait, there’s more!”

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was instituted by the federal government as part of COVID-19 financial relief. On paper, the PPP sounded great. Small businesses, 500 employees or fewer, could obtain prompt funding to cover payroll expenses in large part and, if properly spent, the money would be a non repayment grant rather than a low interest loan. The emphasis was on PROMPT processing of loan applications so that small businesses could continue paying their employees.

Applications were accepted beginning April 3. The funding quickly ran dry. That funding amount was $349 billion, administered by the federal Small Business Administration, ostensibly to help “small businesses” survive this surreal and economically crushing time period.

In the late March and early April run up to PPP application, I was contacted by some clients, friends and family members who operate small businesses. All of these operations are truly small, even tiny, ranging from 2-12 employees. All of them promptly applied with their home banks for PPP assistance. The result was not good.
None of these half dozen or so small businesses received prompt approval and funding. All of these folks had to supplement their PPP applications with additional information or documentation. One client finally received funding in late April. Another small client received funding last week, the week of May 4. Other clients have loans in progress except for a client with 2 employees whose application has disappeared into the abyss of banking and bureaucracy.

So of my admittedly very tiny sampling (nothing empirical about this) I am aware of a whopping 2 businesses that have received modest amounts of funding 5 weeks from the PPP program initiation.

And as I drafted this discussion of the disappointing way that PPP fell short of assisting truly small businesses, Billy Mays called out to bring to my attention the following:

• PPP defined a small business as having no more than 500 employees, at a single location. As a result, chain business and restaurants, that are huge business, each became a small business for purposes of the PPP;
• The maximum amount of PPP assistance was $10 million. At least two one of my clients requested PPP assistance of less than $10,000;
• Publicly traded companies, with more than adequate resources and access to capital, received $1 billion of PPP funding. For example, as reported in the Washington Post on May 1:
◦ Veritone, whose CEO was paid $18.7 million, received $6.5 million;
◦ Aquestive Theraputics, who employs 219 people, but whose CEO made $2.9 million in 2019, received $4.8 million in PPP assistance. After this transaction was publicized, Aquestive said it would return the money;
◦ Ashford Hospitality Trust made over 100 filings and obtained $76 million in PPP funding. This was done by treating multiple subsidiaries of large companies as a separate entity;
◦ AutoNation, which is a network of auto dealers, received $77 million. Nonetheless, AutoNation then returned some employees to furlough status and rescinded certain wage guarantee arrangements

With the late Mr. May’s voice ringing in my head, there is more, much more:

• The Los Angeles Lakers received $4.6 million, while having an estimated value of over $3 billion. After this largesse was disclosed, the funds were said to be returned. Again, after disclosure;
• Ruth’s Chris Steakhouses (Ruth’s Hospitality Group, Inc.) received approximately $20 million, since returned after being reported;
• Shake Shack Inc. received $10 million, since returned after being reported;
• This list of publicly traded companies and/or firms with adequate resources goes on

Even after a second round of PPP funding of about $310 billion, many true small business are shut out. There have been reports that many small banks trying to process loans for their customers have been shut out as well. KDKA news reported on May 4 that Alexander’s Italian Bistro in Pittsburgh, a venerable dining spot that opened in 1958, was closing as it could not obtain PPP funding in its time of need.

The respected Brookings Institution stated “Had Congress set a maximum limit of $1 million it would have freed up over $150 billion – enough money to more than double the number of truly small businesses that received aid.”

Brookings Institution, meet the late Alexander’s Italian Bistro.

COVID-19 Stimulus Payments – A Quick Note

Yesterday I was asked if a person is prohibited from receiving their stimulus payment if 2018 and 2019 tax returns were not filed. Please read the following:

1.) 2019 federal tax returns are not even due until July 15, as the April 15 deadline has been extended. So, not having filed your 2019 tax return is not an issue;

2.) As to 2018 federal tax returns, the IRS website states:

Q.) I have a tax filing obligation but have not filed my tax return for 2018 or 2019. Can I still receive an economic impact payment?

A.) Yes. The IRS urges anyone with a tax filing obligation who has not yet filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019 to file as soon as they can to receive an economic impact payment. Taxpayers should include direct deposit banking information on the return

3.) As to direct deposit payments, if you have a judgment or garnishment/attachment action against you, it would be better to obtain your stimulus payment by check so that you can hold it, deposit it into an account of another person or something similar to preserve these funds for your use.

Feel free to contact us if further questions on this issue.

Allan Opsitnick

COVID-19… A Surreal World

Just some thoughts during this time of national and world crisis:

The two working adults in our house are fortunate that we are both able to work from home. In addition I have my father, aged 95, staying with us pending the end of Pennsylvania’s stay at home order.

Like any other event, there is too much corporatization. Television overflowing with “helpful” ads and I’ve received e-mails from service providers that I’ve never used; consultants, court reporting firms, insurance companies and the like as well as “we are here to help you” e-mails from credit card firms, airlines, etc. Anyone of normal intelligence knows where to contact a firm, person or agency if a question arises.

Both the Federal and Pennsylvania government are enacting economic stimulus programs. See the link below to calculate how much you and your family will be eligible to receive:

Stimulus Check Calculator

While we are stuck at home, the internet provides a breathtaking array of outlets. Museums, art galleries, parks and other activities are available online.

Fender musical instruments has offered 3 months of free guitar lessons online to the first 100,000 people interested. So I signed up. By not having to commute, I’m saving an hour to an hour and a half every day, so I’m taking guitar lessons and have pulled my ukulele and Fender bass out to brush considerable rust from my musical skills.

I’m old enough to remember the Kennedy assasination (I was in 6th grade) and naturally the events of September 11th. With these crises, there was a period of shock and adjustment but the trauma as closed ended. On September 11th, within a few days, we realized that the attack had ended, and we could grieve, join together and move on. With COVID-19 currently an open-ended disaster, we do not know when we will return to anything approaching normal. This disaster could be more stressful that anything before, for that reason it is important to help each other. We try to patronize local businesses for take out meals. This is not a great time to be a small business. Americans persevere. We shall do so.

All that being said, I’m available at all times to respond to questions, whether or not you are an existing client. My contact information is:

Cell Phone: (412) 600-2676

Allan Opsitnick

VA Healthcare System: My Thoughts

In recent months, tragic intentional deaths of VA hospital patients was revealed at the VA hospital in Clarksburg, WV. Three hospitalized vets were killed. No one has yet been charged criminally. Clearly these are criminal actions as non-insulin dependent patients were injected with insulin, killing them.

The VA healthcare system, the above situation aside, has been assailed for poor care for years. I can only comment on a tiny portion of the VA healthcare system interaction with my family.

My dad Joe, who is 95 and a World War II Navy vet, obtains most of his care through one of two VA healthcare facilities in Pittsburgh. Beginning in September of 2018, dad has sustained some circulatory problems requiring four surgical procedures and three overnight stays in the hospital as well as wound treatments.

Dad’s care has been excellent. The physicians are top notch. Perhaps that is as the primary VA hospital in Pittsburgh is adjacent to the University of Pittsburgh campus and in walking distance to the University of Pittsburgh medical school. The same vascular surgeons that render care to my dad at Pittsburgh VA also provide service for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospitals. We are fortunate in this regard.

However, the permanent, non-rotating VA staff; nurses, technicians, administrative and support personnel, have been wonderful to my dad to our family. These folks care. They spend time with my dad at his appointments and when he has been an inpatient. They inquire as to his military service, his current life, and whether or not he needs anything. They provide answers to the questions raised by my sister and me, resulting in a feeling of quality care, with no stone left unturned and leaving my dad in the best possible position. Currently, his circulatory issues are resolved.

There are no open wounds. I know at his age this can change in a moment.

The Pittsburgh VA hospitals are a tiny cog in the VA health system wheel. But based on our experience, I salute those that are treating my dad with expertise and respect.

– Allan Opsitnick

I Was Just Scammed

As I was the only one in office this morning, I answered the phone. A professional female voice said, “This is Grace from hearing administration, can you hear me?” Of course, but stupidly, I answered “yes” and then the call ended. I then realized that I was scammed with a spam phone call so that there is a recording of my voice saying only “yes.”

In the last few years, such scams have been used to then authorize purchases and services, without any authorization.

It took me only seconds to realize what had happened. By then it was too late. My string of curses (so glad that no one else was around at this time) did nothing to rectify. We are contacting our telephone provider to report this but it is unlikely that anything will happen to cure this.

Ignoring the advice of many agencies to never, ever, say yes on a telephone call, unless you know the caller. I was scammed.

Our advertisement, on the Carnival of Randomness podcast, where we are a sponsor, stresses that we are under attack and that nameless and faceless entities are taking from you and stealing from you. The truth of this is reinforced continuously.

Don’t make the same mistake that I just did.

– Allan Opsitnick

Goodbye to Friend and Family

This past summer took a personal toll, with the loss of a dear friend and my sister-in-law. Each person’s life contained legal ramifications.

In July, Mark Wolosik, a decades long friend and colleague, died suddenly. Mark was 65 and spent his entire work career in the Allegheny County Elections Department, the last 27 as Director. Mark retired in September, 2018 and was enjoying his all too brief retirement. Mark started his elections career doing tasks such as pushing the heavy mechanical voting machines that were used in the 1970s and went on to experience over 100 elections. In retirement, he was a consultant with Allegheny County at the time of his death, as part of a committee selecting new voting systems, stressing cyber-security.

While the elections process has been undermined in recent years, and fears of foreign intervention and hacking exist, Mark did everything in his power to ensure full and fair elections. I was Mark’s solicitor for his entire tenure as Director and state, without question, that Mark dedicated every working and waking hour to “getting it right.” Our elector system succeeds because of people like Mark who are dedicated to accurate, nonpartisan elections administration.

Mark was an example of the best in government.

In August, my sister-in-law, Karen Kmetz succumbed at age 55, after an 11 year struggle with Stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer, beating tremendously long odds to survive. Karen’s longevity and largely good quality of life were due to dedicated and selfless support from family, friends and co-workers, but was also aided by comprehensive medical insurance coverage, which enabled Karen to seek top notch medical care, with treatment, including surgeries and chemotherapy. At a time when many people do not have comprehensive medical insurance coverage, Karen was fortunate in that regard.

Additionally, Karen was involved and benefited from organizations and programs that are funded by tax exempt contributions. These programs, such as Camp Raising Spirits, a Pittsburgh based annual retreat for adults with cancer, sponsored by the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society, exist because of contributions, without government funding. Similar programs improve the quality of life for individuals of varying needs.

Consider those tax exempt charities and fund them for their good work, so that people like Karen can flourish despite illness or disability. Karen’s joy of life will be forever missed.

– Allan Opsitnick

Independence Day Thoughts

The United States of America is 243 years old. Recall that our Declaration of Independence mentions unalienable Rights, including Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Our Constitution, enacted in 1787 begins with the words “We the People of the United States………….”

No mention is made in the beginning of these documents regarding governments, corporations, media, and social media. To me, the above language is striking as it both defines our nation as a collection of People and provides certain rights. Implicit is that We the People have an obligation to be educated and informed, to acquaint ourselves with our neighbors, coworkers and others as we are all identified as “We the People.” A social obligation exists to assert and protect our rights and to do the same for others. Consideration of issues that impact us all require time and effort to be true Americans so that our country and our society not be taken from us.

More specifically, we have an obligation to maximize our pursuit of happiness and our liberty. Rather than empty words, effort is required to call out those entities that do not function for the common good. The vast majority of us want to exercise our inalienable rights properly and fully. A small minority encourage evil. At times it seems as we disregard our education and intellect and fall prey to a lack of due diligence to seek the truth on issues that affect We the People. Has technology improved our intellects or has it numbed us?

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought on these days in 1863. Take a moment to locate and read letters from soldiers, that demonstrate an ability to communicate in writing, better than today’s norm. While some of these letters are from well educated people most are written by young, less educated persons but all such letters demonstrate passion, intellect and an ability to communicate.

We the People are imperfect beings. Our history consists of many negative events as well as positive ones. Negatives cannot be ignored, nor erased from our history. To the contrary, we must be aware of the human failings of our predecessors and strive to be better citizens and persons. We the People owe it to Americans past, present and future to fulfill the rights and responsibilities of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.

– Allan Opsitnick