WASHINGTON – A small, overlooked federal agency is shouldering a massive relief effort for the nation’s small businesses and their workers left reeling by the pandemic.
The Small Business Administration has committed to auditing every sizable emergency loan it approves.
But six weeks after the $600 billion-plus program was launched, the agency has yet to make public the recipients of taxpayer aid.
A signature piece of Congress’ multitrillion-dollar pandemic rescue, the unprecedented lending program is targeted to help small employers stay afloat and preserve jobs in a cratering economy losing tens of millions of them.
“Our swift action supported or saved 30 million American jobs at least,” President Donald Trump said at a White House event on small business late last month with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza.
Managing the program fell to the SBA, an agency with some 3,200 employees and an $819 million annual budget that’s one-tenth the size of the Commerce Department’s. On at least two occasions last month, the SBA’s computer system slowed under the crush of loan applications, creating a bottleneck. The agency says that so far it has processed 4.2 million loans for some $530 billion in awards.
The need for a detailed public accounting of the small-business relief program is amplified by controversy over how it has unfolded since early April. It’s important as a way for the public to know whether the program is working as Congress intended.
Several hundred publicly traded companies received hundreds of millions of the low-interest, potentially forgivable loans. They tapped the federal aid despite their likely ability to get the money from private financial sources. Some had market values well over $100 million, and many had executives earning millions annually.