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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Axios, which qualified for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to avoid layoffs, will return the money, after nearing a deal for an alternative source of capital.

Why it matters: In the four weeks since Axios applied for the loan, based on big coronavirus business losses, there has been a public backlash against a variety of companies for taking the PPP, including us. 

  • Some critics say media companies like ours should not qualify, period. Others argue that venture-backed start-ups should seek capital elsewhere, even if it hurts the business. 

What changed? Two things:

  1. The program has become much more politically polarized since its inception.
  2. We continued to explore other capital. Over the past week, a new alternative source emerged, giving us the confidence to return the PPP funds.

We’re disclosing our thinking on returning the funds with the same transparency as our decision to reveal that we had qualified for a loan:

  • The intent of the program was to provide funding to businesses that are smaller than 500 employees (we have 190) and would have to eliminate jobs without it, and could not get capital at reasonable cost elsewhere. 
  • That very much described our situation. Our physical events business was shut down, and some ad buyers canceled contracts. Our primary concern was, and remains, protecting the jobs and safety of our people.
  • But the program has become divisive, turning into a public debate about the worthiness of specific industries or companies.
  • While applying for the loan felt like the right and prudent thing to do one month ago to protect our 190 employees, if we knew then what we know now, we would have gutted it out and hoped for the best.

The bottom line: We remain fully committed to protecting the jobs of all 190 existing employees.

  • This will hopefully free up $4.8 million in loans for other small businesses still struggling to find capital.

Go deeper

Updated Aug 5, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: Small business recovery during the pandemic

On Wednesday August 5, Axios co-founder Mike Allen and "Axios Today" host Niala Boodhoo hosted the last of a six-event series on how small businesses have pivoted during the coronavirus outbreak, featuring Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), owner of The Curvy Bride Michelle Files and Satori Yoga studio owner Andrea Stern.

Sen. Lankford discussed the federal government's response to the pandemic, financial support for small businesses, and the importance of NGOs as economic safety nets within communities.

  • On the effectiveness of PPP loans: "The Paycheck Protection Program has had some problems, but overwhelmingly it's been very, very successful. Paycheck Protection Program was designed to keep small businesses and not-for-profits running so their people didn't have to end up on unemployment assistance...and it has done that."
  • How the coronavirus has changed the economies of small towns: A lot of small towns in Oklahoma have had their highest tax revenue they've ever had in the history of their towns this year...They're used to those folks in small towns driving to big cities to shop. But they're not. They're staying at home. They're shopping online."

Michelle Files and Andrea Stern highlighted the unique challenges of running a small business during the pandemic and how their respective businesses have pivoted to digital tools in these changing times.

  • Michelle Files on adapting her brick-and-mortar business to a virtual world: "Mobile appointments...really took off. People loved that they were still able to shop from the comfort of their own home. I would just bring the dresses to them and safely be on a Zoom call from my car with any questions that they would have."
  • Andrea Stern on transitioning to live, online yoga classes: "We decided that livestream was the best way to go...one of the nice parts about livestream is that [instructors] actually have people in front of them. You can get feedback from the students. It was just a matter of getting everyone up to speed on the technology."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council Karen Kerrigan, who discussed trends in how small businesses have adjusted to the new economy.

  • "[Small businesses] are massively moving to technology platforms. 51% said that they've upped their use of social media in order to engage with customers and find new customers. So they really embrace technology at this very critical time, which is helping them to survive the COVID-19 economy."

Thank you Facebook for sponsoring this event.

FBI, Homeland Security warn of increasing threat to Capitol

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security predict violent domestic extremists attacks will increase in 2021, according to a report reviewed by Axios.

Driving the news: The joint report says an unidentified group of extremists discussed plans to take control of the Capitol and "remove Democratic lawmakers" on or about March 4. The House canceled its plans for Thursday votes as word of the possible threats spread.

26 mins ago - World

Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

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