May 19, 2020 - Economy & Business

Mnuchin, Powell to be grilled by Congress over small business loans

Mnuchin and Powell.
Mnuchin (L) and Powell at the IMF and World Bank Annual Meetings, Oct. 17, 2019, Washington, D.C. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Small business loan recipients, or at least their lawyers, will be glued to their computers today, as both Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jay Powell testify "in front" of the Senate Banking Committee.

On the grill: Expect lots of questions about the Paycheck Protection Program, in terms of application, effectiveness and possible changes.

The SBA did finally release forgiveness guidelines on Saturday, a scant 20 days past its legislated deadline.

  • It included some clarification and simplification of the "covered period," which is eight weeks.
  • There has been a growing push to expand the "covered period" to upward of 24 weeks, particularly for businesses that received PPP loans but have not yet reopened.
  • That was a constant refrain yesterday from restaurant owners and CEOs during a White House roundtable whose headlines got hijacked by President Trump's personal medical regimen. Every time Trump pivoted to meal deductibility or payroll tax cuts, the restauranteurs brought it back to the covered period. And, in doing so, indirectly criticized Mnuchin, who was sitting directly to Trump's left.
  • Mnuchin said that he was negotiating a covered period extension, but it would likely be short of 24 weeks.

Around $164 billion of PPP2 was spoken for as of Saturday night, with no indication that the replenished pot will be exhausted. Overall, the PPP program has approved over 4.3 million loans totaling around $513 billion, with average loan sizes of $118,000.

  • California's small businesses received the most loans and loan dollars, followed by Texas, New York and Florida.
  • Two lenders have approved more than $25 billion in loans each, although the SBA did not disclose their identities. There still has been no disclosure of individual loan recipients, nor a public commitment by the SBA to do so.

Also: Both Mnuchin and Powell will be asked about the bigger company lending programs and why a large amount of the allocated money hasn't been disbursed. It should be interesting to see if issues like affiliation and leverage limits get raised, as both remain top of mind for private equity.

The bottom line: The CARES Act was bipartisan, which means both sides of the aisle have a vested interest in its success.

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