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3 takeaways from the small-business loan program

Associated Press

Small businesses have, like much of the U.S. economy, been walloped by the coronavirus. In response, Congress created the Paycheck Protection Program to infuse small businesses — which typically have less access to quick cash and credit — with hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency loans so they can keep workers employed.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, which is administering the program through banks, has not released information on who received these low-interest, taxpayer-backed loans. The Associated Press sought to understand where the initial loans were going.

FILE - In this April 2, 2020 file photo, a notice of closure is posted at The Great Frame Up in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. The government is closing in on the $349 billion lending limit on its Paycheck Protection Program that is sending relief money to the nation’s small businesses. The Small Business Administration says that it has approved more than 1.6 million loans worth more than $339 billion. The program will likely reach its ceiling Thursday, April 16. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

A notice of closure is posted at The Great Frame Up in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan. (AP File Photo/Paul Sancya)

Key takeaways from an AP review:

About 1.6 million businesses received $349 billion worth of loans before the initial fund ran out last week. Who received the loans? The Small Business Administration says they went to a range of industries but was short on specifics.

An AP investigation focused on companies that are listed on stock exchanges because they must file documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission declaring the loans. Private businesses — from large firms to neighborhood shops — do not have to disclose.

By combing through thousands of regulatory filings, the AP found that at least 94 publicly traded companies or their subsidiaries received a combined $365 million in loans since the program opened April 3. That $4 million average compared to the $206,000 average of a typical loan, according to SBA statistics.
Of the 94 companies that made filings through Monday, 23 had warned investors months ago — while U.S. economic prospects were strong — that their executives or auditors were not sure they could remain viable. That amounts to about 25% of firms that the AP had identified. Some executives interviewed by the AP argued that their struggling companies are exactly the kind that need a hand. The other side of the argument: Taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize a business with an unsound financial foundation.

Nine of the loans were for the maximum $10 million possible. One was a California software company that settled an SEC investigation late last year into accounting errors that overstated its revenue. Four other companies were previously under investigation by financial and other regulators, including firms that paid penalties to resolve allegations.


The AP’s review also found examples of companies that had foreign owners and that were delisted from U.S. stock exchanges, or threatened with removal, because their stocks performed poorly even before the coronavirus shocked the world economy.

Other companies posted annual losses for years. And some appeared to have enough cash on hand to survive the economic downturn.

A number of large restaurants groups were able to get loans under a government program designed to help small businesses survive the coronavirus outbreak.

A number of large restaurants groups were able to get loans under a government program designed to help small businesses survive the coronavirus outbreak. (CLICK TO EXPAND)

Some of the companies had market values well over $100 million but qualified for loans because the number of people on payroll is below the program’s benchmarks, which typically limit eligibility to firms with under 500 employees.

Publicly trade companies that responded to the AP’s request for comment pointed out that they were following the rules and were doing the right thing to help keep workers paid. Meanwhile, many businesses that would fit the colloquial understanding of a small business — an ice cream parlor, for example, or another Main Street shop — have vented great frustration that they did not receive a loan before the money was depleted.

Congressional leaders are under immense pressure to replenish the fund, and the Senate voted Tuesday to do that as part of an additional relief package that would add more than $300 billion. The House was scheduled to vote Thursday.

Associated Press writers Justin Myers, Krysta Fauria and Michael Liedtke also contributed to this report.

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