Jul 7, 2020 - Economy

Breaking down the PPP disclosure debacle

A hand holding a list

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The U.S. Treasury Department Monday morning released the names of over 660,000 small businesses that received Paycheck Protection Program loans of at least $150,000, per its recent compromise with Congress. Well, at least that's what we thought Treasury did.

What happened: Within hours, several well-known companies and investment firms on the list denied that they had ever applied for PPP loans, let alone received them.

  • A handful of venture capital firms and funds were listed, but most claimed it was a mistake.
  • For example, Treasury reports that Foundation Capital VIII received between $1 million and $2 million. But Foundation's Dave Anderson says the loan actually was for a Foundation portfolio company.
  • Per an email: "The processing bank confirmed it was a data entry error on their end, and they are working with the SBA to correct the database. They also confirmed that the funds did go to the right company, and not Foundation Capital."
  • Foundation used Silicon Valley Bank, but there were similar alleged issues with plenty of other lenders — suggesting something more systemic.

Then there's e-scooter company Bird, which Treasury reports got a PPP loan of between $5 million and $10 million.

  • Bird claims it began an application with Citi, but ultimately decided against applying. Citi confirmed that it "has not funded a PPP loan for Bird."
  • A senior administration official told Axios: "Companies listed in today’s data disclosure had their PPP applications entered into SBA’s Electronic Transmission (ETran) system by an approved PPP lender. If a lender did not cancel the loan in the ETran system, the loan is listed as part of today’s data disclosure."
  • Citi says it processed around $3.5 billion in PPP loans.

Be smart: There were over 660,000 companies listed. And reporters only called a tiny percentage of them. If the error rate *we* found is representative of the larger sample, then who knows how many PPP loans there really were, or what companies they went to. Imagine if small businesses got shut out of the initial pool, and then shut down or laid off employees, if the initial pool wasn’t actually exhausted?

  • There’s going to need to be an audit, and not just the promised reviews of companies that got loans north of $2 million.
  • Was this just a bunch of fat fingers? Fraud? Incompetence? A combination of all three?

The bottom line: The purpose of these PPP disclosures was to better understand how the program worked, particularly ahead of a phase 4 stimulus. What we've learned is that we need even more disclosures.

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