According to data on the government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), about 600 mostly larger companies, including dozens of national chains, received the maximum amount allowed under the program of $10 million.
Officials from the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration (SBA) have argued that the program primarily benefited smaller businesses because a vast majority of the loans ― more than 87 percent ― were for less than $150,000, as of August. But the new data shows that more than half of the $522 billion in the same time frame went to bigger businesses, and only 28 percent of the money was distributed in amounts less than $150,000.
The newly released data comes after a federal lawsuit filed by The Washington Post and 10 other news organizations under the Freedom of Information Act challenging the SBA’s refusal to release records on borrowers and loan amounts. A federal judge ordered the release of the data by Tuesday and the agency did not appeal.
Devised as a way to temporarily pay small companies to keep their employees on staff for eight weeks, the Paycheck Protection Program is widely credited with helping millions of businesses make payroll during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, benefiting tens of millions of employees. A bipartisan group of senators unveiled plans Tuesday for another $908 billion in stimulus, including nearly $300 billion in new funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and other SBA programs.
However, the program’s spring rollout was fraught with confusion over rules for borrowers and an early run on the money by large chains and big banks that caused the first pot of funding to run dry in eight days. The Treasury Department later asked large well-capitalized borrowers to return their funding, though the agency has not disclosed which borrowers have done so.
The data released Tuesday disclosed for the first time the exact dollar figures received by some of the top recipients, showing that a number of restaurant chains received the maximum $10 million, among them the parent companies of Uno Pizzeria & Grill, Legal Sea Foods, Boston Market and Cava Mezze Grill. Law firms, churches and professional staffing services were also among recipients of $10 million loans.
The SBA calculated loan amounts based on monthly payroll figures and capped loans at a maximum of $10 million. Businesses with up to 500 employees were eligible, though that limit was relaxed for restaurant and hotel companies.
Previous disclosures of PPP loan data showed that the program was falling fall short of the Trump administration’s claims of its success. A Post analysis of 4.9 million loans initially released by the SBA contained numerous errors, casting doubt on the administration’s claim that the $517 billion in lending had “supported” 51 million jobs.
Many companies were reported to have “retained” far more workers than they employ. Likewise, in some cases, the agency’s jobs claim for entire industries surpassed the total number of workers in those sectors. For more than 875,000 borrowers, the data showed that zero jobs were supported or no information is listed at all, according to the analysis.
There is also increasing evidence that the program was subject to considerable fraud. Investigators at the Justice Department, FBI, IRS and other agencies have joined forces to identify fraudulent borrowers, and in September the government announced that it had charged 57 people with trying to steal a total of $175 million. The SBA inspector general’s office has received tens of thousands of fraud tips, and federal officials have launched hundreds of investigations.
Additionally, a “blanket approval” allowed Congress, officials and their families to receive PPP funds without a required conflict of interest review. Several members of Congress, including some who helped shape the program’s rules, benefited from funds, according to news reports and financial records.
The Post filed a Freedom of Information Act for complete records about the lending program on April 24. After the SBA failed to respond in the time required by law, The Post and 10 other national news organizations sued for the release of records on the Paycheck Protection Program and a separate smaller loan program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program, or EIDL.
In response to the lawsuit, the SBA posted loan-level data of 660,000 business and nonprofit organizations that received at least $150,000 in funding. But despite a disclaimer on the loan application stating that the names of borrowers and amounts of loans would be “automatically released” in response to FOIA requests, the agency argued to the court that it should not have to provide exact loan figures for any of the loans, as well as borrower information for loans under $150,000, an estimated 87 percent of all PPP loans.
The agency claimed that FOIA’s confidential business information and personal privacy exemptions allowed the…