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COVID-19

Who got those PPP loans? The government doesn’t want to tell.

Kristin Schwab Jun 15, 2020
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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks at a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing. Al Drago Pool/Getty Images
COVID-19

Who got those PPP loans? The government doesn’t want to tell.

Kristin Schwab Jun 15, 2020
Heard on:
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks at a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing. Al Drago Pool/Getty Images
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Who got the more than $500 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans that the CARES Act gave to businesses to ease the pain of the pandemic? We may never know.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow say the information should not be released.

The Treasury Department is funding the CARES Act with taxpayer money. When the government shells out your taxpayer money, it usually tells you where it’s going.

“The accountability for who gets it, how much they receive and whether they’re entitled to it. That is a trust factor,” said Emma Coleman Jordan, professor of business law at Georgetown University.

The Trump administration said what we should care about is that the loans comply with the CARES Act. But who received them? The treasury secretary told Congress last week that it’s “proprietary information.”

Mehrsa Baradaran, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, thinks there are a couple of other things at play.

“Part of this bill is they left it a lot up to banks. And it’s possible that they just don’t know where the funds went,” Baradaran said. “It’s possible that they do know, and they don’t want us to know.”

We do know where some of the money went — to big names like Shake Shack and Potbelly, which pledged to return the loans. But we only know that because they’re publicly traded companies.

“PPP was sold to the American public as loans to small business workers,” said Aaron Klein, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “They’ve become grants to big business creditors.”

Grants, not loans, because businesses don’t have to repay them if they fulfill certain requirements, like rehiring staff. Klein said that makes transparency crucial.

“Failing to disclose who got this money undermines this response and future responses,” he said. Klein doesn’t just mean future bailouts. He means like tomorrow. Because there’s still about $130 billion left in the PPP pot.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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