White House to dis­close virus aid re­cip­i­ents

Times Standard (Eureka) - - FRONT PAGE - By Marcy Gor­don

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has dropped its in­sis­tence on se­crecy for a $600 bil­lion-plus virus aid pro­gram.

WASH­ING­TON » The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has abruptly dropped its in­sis­tence on se­crecy for a $600 bil­lion-plus coro­n­avirus aid pro­gram for small busi­nesses.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced Fri­day it will publicly dis­close the names of re­cip­i­ents of the tax­payer-funded loans, the amounts they re­ceived in ranges, as well as de­mo­graphic data on the busi­nesses.

The un­ex­pected move came af­ter Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, gov­ern­ment watch­dogs, ethics ad­vo­cates and news or­ga­ni­za­tions called for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to make the in­for­ma­tion pub­lic.

Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin re­fused to do so at a Se­nate hear­ing last week, say­ing the data on the Pay­check Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram was “pro­pri­etary in­for­ma­tion.” The Small Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which man­ages the loan pro­gram, has only pro­vided gen­eral in­for­ma­tion, such as the to­tal amounts of loans awarded in a given time pe­riod.

Mnuchin said in a state­ment Fri­day that the new po­si­tion re­sulted from a bi­par­ti­san agree­ment with lead­ers of the Se­nate Small Busi­ness Com­mit­tee.

The new ap­proach “will strike the ap­pro­pri­ate bal­ance of pro­vid­ing pub­lic trans­parency, while pro­tect­ing the pay­roll and per­sonal in­come in­for­ma­tion of small busi­nesses, sole pro­pri­etors and in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors,” Mnuchin said.

To that end, in­for­ma­tion on loans of less than $150,000 will only be dis­closed in totals by in­dus­try, busi­ness type and de­mo­graphic cat­e­gory. Nearly 75% of the to­tal loan amounts ap­proved are over $150,000 and will be sub­ject to full dis­clo­sure, ac­cord­ing to the Trea­sury Depart­ment and the SBA.

In ad­di­tion, busi­ness own­ers’ per­son­ally iden­ti­fi­able in­for­ma­tion, such as a home ad­dress as­so­ci­ated with the loan, will be with­held.

Crit­ics had de­nounced the re­fusal to open the in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic as an at­tempt to dodge ac­count­abil­ity for how the federal aid money is spent. They said it raised ques­tions about how the money was be­ing dis­trib­uted and who was ben­e­fit­ing.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has moved to curb over­sight of federal re­lief pro­grams since Congress en­acted the mul­ti­tril­lion­dol­lar coro­n­avirus res­cue law in late March.

Gov­ern­ment watch­dogs over­see­ing the law raised the alarm this week over a Trea­sury Depart­ment le­gal opin­ion con­clud­ing that the law’s dis­clo­sure re­quire­ments don’t ex­tend to sev­eral pro­grams in­clud­ing the small-busi­ness re­lief.

“The Trea­sury Depart­ment fi­nally gave in to pub­lic pres­sure ... be­cause their po­si­tion of hid­ing which busi­nesses have re­ceived PPP loans was un­ten­able,” Se­nate Demo­cratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a state­ment Fri­day. “This re­ver­sal is a good start and will help us de­ter­mine if tax­payer money went where Congress in­tended — to the truly small” busi­nesses.

Busi­nesses strug­gled to ob­tain loans in the early weeks of the pro­gram in April, and sev­eral hun­dred publicly traded com­pa­nies re­ceived loans de­spite their

likely abil­ity to get fund­ing from pri­vate fi­nan­cial sources. Publicly shamed, a num­ber of big cor­po­ra­tions said they would re­turn their loans.

The SBA — an agency with about 3,200 em­ploy­ees and an an­nual bud­get shy of $1 bil­lion — is shoul­der­ing the mas­sive re­lief ef­fort for U.S. small busi­nesses and their em­ploy­ees left reel­ing by the eco­nomic punch of the pan­demic. A sig­na­ture piece of the sweep­ing res­cue law, and touted by Trump, the un­prece­dented lend­ing pro­gram is in­tended to help small em­ploy­ers stay afloat and pre­serve jobs in a cra­ter­ing econ­omy los­ing tens of mil­lions of them.

As of Fri­day, the SBA says it has pro­cessed 4.6 mil­lion loans worth about $512 bil­lion. The loans can be for­given if busi­nesses use the money to keep em­ploy­ees on pay­roll or re­hire work­ers who have been laid off.

For the larger loans, the SBA will dis­close the busi­ness names, ad­dresses, zip codes, busi­ness types, de­mo­graphic data, num­ber of jobs sup­ported, and loan amount ranges: from $150,000 to $350,000, $350,000 to $1 mil­lion, $1 mil­lion to $2 mil­lion, $2 mil­lion to $5 mil­lion and $5 mil­lion to $10 mil­lion.

The de­mo­graphic data is im­por­tant be­cause the watch­dog for SBA found re­cently that the agency failed to pro­vide guid­ance to lenders about pri­or­i­tiz­ing ru­ral, mi­nor­ity and women busi­ness bor­row­ers, so they may not have re­ceived loans as in­tended by the leg­is­la­tion.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio, the Florida Repub­li­can who heads the Se­nate Small Busi­ness Com­mit­tee, said Fri­day that Amer­i­cans “de­serve to know how ef­fec­tive the PPP was in pro­tect­ing our na­tion’s small busi­nesses and the tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans they em­ploy.” He said the new agree­ment with the Trea­sury Depart­ment strikes a bal­ance be­tween the need for trans­parency and the le­git­i­mate con­cerns of many small-busi­ness own­ers re­gard­ing dis­clo­sure of in­for­ma­tion.

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