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Lawmakers get impatient with transparency of the Paycheck Protection Program

Ben Werschkul
DC Producer

Lawmakers are growing more impatient about transparency and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced legislation to mandate that the agency release more data about PPP and do it more often. 

“Our bill is very simple,” he said on the Senate floor, adding that, so far, “the proverbial small restaurant owner, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, they’ve been left out to a large degree” from getting loans.

Republicans have a different take on the success of the program but are also speaking out on transparency. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the chairman of the committee that oversees the SBA, posted a scathing video on Saturday when he couldn’t get top-line answers about the program.

The "SBA is refusing to answer" about who is getting the money, Rubio said, also claiming the agency was “hoarding” information. "This is completely unacceptable," he said.

On Sunday, after Rubio’s video was posted, the SBA did release information on the second round of funding. The Florida Senator then made another video saying “we finally saw some data,” and touted the “very good news” in the numbers.

After all the back and forth on Capitol Hill this week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted that the SBA would now offer “daily end of day updates” on PPP loan activity. The latest data, as of 5 p.m. on May 5 showed that nearly 2.4 million loans had been approved totaling over $181 billion, representing well over half of the $310 billion in this funding round.

‘We’re gonna get on it’

Rubio has promised to conduct oversight of the program, saying “we’re gonna get on it.” A Rubio spokesperson stressed that oversight would look at both the SBA’s work and the banks that administer the loans.

The question is how far Congress is willing to go to demand additional transparency, especially if the program needs more funding as many expect it soon will.

Schumer’s bill, introduced with Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, would mandate daily and weekly reports from the PPP and other relief programs.

It would also require “the name of the entities and the loans or grant amounts,” which is not currently available. 

An SBA spokesperson contacted by Yahoo Finance did not offer comment on Schumer’s bill.

On Tuesday, Rubio said he wasn’t supporting Schumer’s bill immediately but noted, “I am all for transparency.” The Florida senator says he wants to balance regular reports to the public with putting “onerous requirements on the SBA staff,” which could slow down loans getting out the door.

Rubio objected to the push for passage on the Senate floor, but noted that “something like this may be necessary” eventually. Schumer later told reporters, “unfortunately, the Republicans blocked our efforts to provide transparency.”

The SBA regularly releases limited data about money given out by the program. The new daily updates offered information such as breakdowns by lender size, the number of approved loans, as well as the amount of money approved in total. Another recent release, including loans through May 1, broke down the program by state.

What hasn’t been released is the name of every business that has received a loan. It’s led to criticism around the country as larger, publicly traded companies like Shake Shake (SHAK) and Ashford (AINC) secure PPP loans – and then bow to public pressure to return the money.

Allied Progress, a left-leaning nonprofit consumer advocacy group, launched a site to list public companies that have received PPP loans using public filings and news reports.

Neil Barofsky, the former inspector general for TARP in 2008, told Yahoo Finance it was “pretty unbelievable that the government has not committed to making all the recipients transparent.” He then predicted that eventually they would relent: “they almost have to.”

Geographic data

More specific geographic data is another key ask among Democrats, to see what neighborhoods and cities are getting the money.

A spokesperson for Rep. Nydia Velázquez, who heads the House Small Business committee, said the Velázquez “has repeatedly stressed the need for data surrounding the demographic and geographical dispersal of the loans and will continue to use her Congressional authority to conduct vigorous oversight.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to the press as the Senate returns into session on Monday. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

The Schumer and Cardin bill would also require a breakdown “by geography, demographics and industry.”

Velázquez and her committee have highlighted data that show U.S. territories “are not receiving equal treatment from this Administration when it comes to Paycheck Protection Program loans.”

Lawmakers are set to negotiate another massive coronavirus relief bill in the coming weeks which could touch on difficult subjects, from infrastructure to vote-by-mail to additional stimulus checks. More PPP funding – and rules – could very well be part of any final package as the program is on pace, for the second time, to run out of money. 

Schumer’s position is that “transparency around these programs is the order of the day.”

As Rubio noted Saturday, “one way or the other, we are going to know answers to these questions.”

This story has been updated.

Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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