Nearly two months since Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the Small Business Administration has failed to release a list of recipients of Paycheck Protection Program loans. The program contains $669 billion in low-interest loans meant for small businesses, a significant component of the largest stimulus package in U.S. history.
During testimony before a June 10 Senate Small Business Committee hearing, U.S.Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reaffirmed his stance on keeping information about economic stimulus recipients confidential. Mnuchin and the SBA have claimed PPP loan information contains “proprietary information” given that loan amounts are partially based on company payroll and collateral. To date, SBA has released only summary data about total loan amounts with generic geographic and industry breakdowns.
Some information about who received PPP loans has come out in news reports. Large, publicly traded companies such as Shake Shack and the Los Angeles Lakers received millions of dollars from a program intended for small businesses. After public outcry, The New York Times reported that 9 of 10 of the “largest known loans issued to public companies” had or were going to be returned.
A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and ProPublica calls for all the information to be made public. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs cite “the public interest in contemporaneously monitoring the disbursement of billions of taxpayer dollars through expansive federal initiatives… during this period of unprecedented financial and social disruption” as the need for expediency.
While that lawsuit progresses, Congress has started showing interest in oversight of the PPP program. Democrats on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis recently demanded Mnuchin and the SBA increase transparency.
“Given the many problems with the PPP program, it is imperative American taxpayers know if the money is going where Congress intended — to the truly small and unbanked small business,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said during a Small Business Committee hearing.
“The administration’s resistance to transparency is outrageous and only serves to raise further suspicions about how the funds are being distributed and who is actually benefiting.”
The Investigative Reporting Workshop is following the developments on this issue. When PPP loan data is released, we will add it to The Accountability Project, alongside data on political contributions, federal contracts, lobbyist registration, and more.