▶️ Businesses that violate health rules still eligible for loans, SBA says

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By HANNAH SIEVERT
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

More than $30,000 in Paycheck Protection loans from the government, but also hit with nearly $9,000 in fines for violating COVID restrictions.

That’s the reality for one small business in Central Oregon, which seems to be taking money from the government with one hand and paying fines to the government with the other.

Central Oregon Daily spoke with Sen. Jeff Merkley about the situation, and he said he sees how both could happen.

“I can see how two things can happen simultaneously,” Sen. Jeff Merkley said. “You get federal help to keep your employees from the PPP program and you simultaneously can break some other rule.”

According to Sean Wilson with the Small Business Administration, businesses who have been fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for breaking state COVID health requirements are still eligible for a PPP loan, which is essentially free money from the government which can be used to fund a business’s payroll through the pandemic.

OSHA has issued at least 77 citations since March to businesses for violating requirements to protect workers from COVID-19 by enforcing mask wearing and social distancing.

Some of those citations were for non-willful COVID safety violations, which means the violation didn’t seem intentional or a purposeful disregard of requirements.

For example, Ferguson’s Market in Terrebonne was fined $480 for not ensuring mask wearing, but they were still eligible for a PPP loan worth $111,180.

Or the Alfalfa Store east of Bend was fined $175 for also not ensuring mask wearing, but they still received a PPP loan worth $53,373.

There’s only been one instance of a willful violation given out to a Central Oregon Business so far. Willful violations means the business is intentionally disregarding state health requirements.

That citation went to Kevista Coffee in Bend. They were fined $8,900, but still received a PPP loan worth $32,185.

Merkley said he doesn’t believe a fine should impact a businesses ability to receive a loan.

“I don’t think one should negate the other,” Merkley said. “I think we need to have both processes working — help businesses pay their employees and we need to have good regulation of health and safety standards.”

But Merkley said he doesn’t believe any business should violate state health requirements either.

“Hopefully these companies will dramatically rethink what they’ve done under the state regulations of health and safety,”  Merkley said. “Meanwhile, after they restore good practices, thanks to the PPP, they’ll be able to continue in the economy.”

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