When COVID crisis hit, government program saved north country jobs

WWNY When COVID crisis hit, government program saved north country jobs

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Hospitals and health clinics. Newspapers and nursing homes. Auto dealers and the people who fix cars. Even a church.

More than 300 businesses and not-for-profits in the north country got at least $150,000 each from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program - and thousands of jobs were saved.

As the coronavirus spread this spring and the economy tanked, congress looked for a way to keep people working. They came up with the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which loaned money to businesses and other organizations to cover the cost of employees. Although technically a loan, the money does not need to be paid back in many cases.

In the north country, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, more than 27,000 jobs were “retained” at organizations which got the PPP money.

Carthage Area Hospital got the most money in northern New York - between $5 and $10 million - and retained the most jobs, 436.

The Small Business Administration, which runs the program and provides the information about who got what, doesn’t show the exact amount of the biggest loans. So for instance, the Jefferson County Childrens Home, which retained 232 jobs, got between $2 and $5 million, but we don’t know more precisely than that.

What were the organizations where the most jobs were retained?

- Carthage Area Hospital - 436

- United Cerebral Palsy Association - 426

- Fucillo Auto Group, Adams - 357

- United Helpers, Ogdensburg - 300

- Disabled Persons Action Organization - 246

- Atlantic Testing, Canton - 233

- Childrens Home of Jefferson County 232

- River Hospital - 222

- United Helpers, Canton - 207

- Stebbins Engineering - 199

In general - but not always - the more money an organization got, the more jobs were saved. An example: of the 18 organizations in Jefferson County which got between $1 and $2 million, 14 of them retained at least 90 jobs.

How big a lifeline was the Payroll Protection Program?

Consider what happened at a couple of the large organizations which got PPP money, and at one of the smaller ones.

By late March, early April, hospitals and health clinics were hurting. COVID-19 shut down most operations, and even if something was still open, people were staying away out of fear.

On Friday, April 17, Carthage Area Hospital announced it would have to put 83 of its 450 employees on unpaid leave. But because congress and the Trump administration made PPP money available quickly, the layoffs never happened. By Monday, the hospital announced the unpaid leaves were cancelled. Everybody would keep their job.

The money was “absolutely essential,” said Taylour Scanlin, Foundation and Marketing Executive Director for the hospital.

“Not only was it important for operations by having staff readily available to train to meet the needs of a potential COVID surge, it was essential for our employees’ well-being,” she said in an email.

Much the same thing happened at the North Country Family Health Center in Watertown, which provides free and low cost health care to thousands of people.

The Family Health Center had to furlough about 40 of its 134 employees, but it applied early for money from the Payroll Protection Program and got $1.3 million.

That meant all the employees out on furlough were able to come back to work after just a couple of weeks.

“That was big,” said April Fallon, the Family Health Center’s Marketing and Community Relations Director. “For us it was a saving grace.”

It meant that people working in the Family Health Center’s dental program, which was closed for everything except emergencies, could come back to work and help with other jobs.

It meant that people working in three of the Family Health Center’s school-based programs which shut down were also able to come back and do other work.

“As a community health center, we should be the first place people are going to,” Fallon said. “All of our staff is hands on.”

The Volunteer Transportation Center isn’t a big operation - it has 31 employees. But it provides a vital service in the north country to people who otherwise have no way to get to the doctor or any other appointment.

And back in early March, “we started seeing the writing on the wall,” said Sam Purington, the executive director of the Volunteer Transportation Center.

“All I could think was ‘How do I protect my volunteers, how do I protect my staff?’” So he applied for money and got $326,550.

Knowing the money would be there made all the difference.

“Without that, we would be up a creek,” Purington said.

“I didn’t need to go through my staff and say ‘I’m laying off 20 of you.’”

The numbers:

- 352 businesses and other organizations in northern New York got loans of at least $150,000.

- 2,462 businesses and other organizations got loans of less than $150,000.

- 27,206 jobs were retained.

- Written and reported by Scott Atkinson; database analysis by Ray Weston

Copyright 2020 WWNY. All rights reserved.