The US government has distributed more than $521bn (£415bn) to businesses from its emergency coronavirus aid. This week, the public finally got a glimpse of who’s been getting the money.
The list, released by the US Treasury Department, reignited debate about the controversial programme, called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
“We don’t want to say that the PPP didn’t help small businesses – it did. But well-connected small businesses got helped first and most,” said Joshua Gotbaum, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution think tank.
The programme was intended to help small firms and prevent widespread layoffs during the pandemic. It offers loans, distributed by banks, that can be forgiven if firms use them primarily to pay staff wages,
But it has faced significant criticism, including that money has gone to bigger companies that don’t need the help. Government inspectors have also warned that it is at risk of fraud, due to limited transparency and oversight.
The names published on Monday represented firms that received loans worth more than $150,000 – less than 15% of the more than 4.8 million overall loans. And some flaws in the data have surfaced. (Scooter company Bird said it was erroneously listed.)
Steve Ellis, president of budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, called the disclosures long overdue. But he warned that the government will have to provide much more information if it wants to build confidence that programme is not being abused.
“Just because they’ve provided a list of names and businesses … doesn’t mean the money wasn’t wasted or doesn’t mean the money was wasted,” he said.