Each April, community banks in Wisconsin proudly pause to reflect on how they helped their communities in times of need over the past year. Year after year, we are truly surprised and grateful for the random acts of kindness by so many employees of our community banks who help their neighbors and those in need.
While the banking community sets this month aside each year as a time to celebrate the efforts of bank employees across the state and the relationships they foster with local consumers, small business owners, farmers and community leaders, the reality is we are proud to engage in those activities every month of the year.
After all, these communities are our hometowns, too.
For more than a year, major disruptions have affected communities large and small across the state. Wisconsin’s bankers aided their local communities in special ways during the pandemic: lending a helping hand, donating to local efforts and making modifications to serve customers safely (for example, using the drive-up to complete loan paperwork).
When challenges arise and unforeseen circumstances occur in their hometowns, Wisconsin banks are among the first to step forward and ask what they can do to help. From ensuring our health care heroes on the frontlines have the resources they need to honoring our essential workers, from food drives to community clean-ups, our banks and their dedicated employees continually step up and serve.
After the COVID-19 pandemic struck, we were proud to play a pivotal role in standing with our local small businesses to help provide the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that supported or saved 51 million jobs in the U.S. In Wisconsin, community banks helped facilitate nearly 90,000 PPP loans totaling almost $10 billion, with an average PPP loan in Wisconsin totaling $110,000 to a company with an average size of 11 employees. Our Main Street businesses still face many challenges. Earlier this year, the president signed legislation that includes further guidance on the PPP program to continue supporting our workers and small businesses. Once again, community banks are helping ensure our local small businesses survive and thrive.
Another area where community banks stand ready to help is with our rural and agriculture communities. The outbreak of COVID-19 has shown the vulnerability of credit availability for farmers and ranchers. The CARES Act provided some relief for agriculture, but more will be needed to help our farmers through this pandemic. Introduced in Congress with bipartisan support, the Enhancing Credit Opportunities in Rural America (ECORA) Act would lower the cost for farmers and ranchers to acquire credit in rural America and increase their cash flow by removing the taxation on income from farm real estate loans that are made by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation backed financial institutions. By removing this taxation, the cost to create farm and ranch real estate loans will be reduced, and the savings will be passed on to farmer and rancher customers. ECORA offers a simple solution to help farmers and ranchers during these difficult times without creating new government payments or programs.
As demonstrated by the role that our banks have played with the administration of crucial programs like the PPP and EORA initiatives, the role our community banks play in building strong communities is fundamental to the success of our Main Streets across Wisconsin and the farms throughout our great state.
Through good times and bad, our community banks are standing strong with their consumers, small businesses and farmers. Members from those communities know that our banks don’t just do business here. We too are part of this community, and we are proud to call this our home.
Rose Oswald Poels is the CEO and president of the Wisconsin Bankers Association.
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