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WASHINGTON—Pressure is building on the Trump administration to disclose the names of borrowers that received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, and a key senator signaled that the names of larger loan recipients could be released.
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The Small Business Administration has so far not made public the list of roughly 4.6 million businesses that have received more than $512 billion from the pandemic emergency lending program since early April. The agency is holding out despite growing demands for the data from government auditors, media companies, public interest groups and Republicans and Democrats in Congress. All contend disclosure is essential to determine whether the huge program is working as intended.
“We will have PPP loan disclosure,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, wrote Tuesday on Twitter.
Mr. Rubio, who has worked closely with the Trump administration on the PPP, said that there is “no dispute over larger loan recipients being disclosed” but that discussions were still under way on “how to treat smaller loans to mostly micro-business, sole proprietors & independent contractors.”
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Mr. Rubio’s expectation of disclosure contrasted with comments last week by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who said during a hearing before Mr. Rubio’s committee that the administration isn’t publicly disclosing the identities of PPP loan recipients.
“We absolutely need transparency,” said Mr. Mnuchin, who has played a central role in setting the policies for the SBA program. “As it relates to the names and amounts of specific PPP loans, we believe that that is proprietary information and in many cases, for sole proprietors and small businesses, is confidential information.” The loan amounts are calculated based on monthly payroll.
On Monday, Mr. Mnuchin added in a tweet that he would be talking with senators and others “on a bipartisan basis to strike the appropriate balance for proper oversight of #ppploans and appropriate protection of small business information.”
An SBA spokesman had no immediate comment.
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Most of the loans are expected to be forgiven, effectively turning them into taxpayer-funded grants, if businesses meet conditions such as spending most of the money on payroll. As of June 12, 82,127 businesses received forgivable loans of at least $1 million, including 4,807 companies that got between $5 million and the maximum loan amount of $10 million, according to the SBA.
The loan application that businesses filled out says “Information about approved loans…will be automatically released” under the Freedom of Information Act, including the loan amount and names of businesses.
To date, the SBA has published general information about the program, including its total size and the amount of loans by state, industry and other metrics. Hundreds of borrowers are known because they have disclosed that they received a loan, including publicly traded companies that must report material financial events.
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The agency has been sharing more-detailed loan data with at least one other arm of government: the Justice Department. Investigators there have access to the list of recipients of pandemic emergency loans as they look to bring cases against alleged cheaters, according to people familiar with the matter.
But the Trump administration has resisted sharing the data with other government officials, including the Government Accountability Office, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and members of Congress.
Some people say keeping the taxpayer-funded loans secret could hinder efforts to assess the PPP’s effectiveness as Congress considers allocating even more money later in the summer to help small businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic.
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“We do not know which companies need the most help because the Trump Administration has not released detailed data on the companies that have received PPP loans,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.), the top Democrat on the small-business committee, in a statement last week.
The GAO, an auditing agency created by Congress, is legally required to review the emergency pandemic spending in a report to lawmakers due June 25. A GAO spokesman said the agency has “requested data regarding the PPP loans themselves and has received no information about when that data…will be provided.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has called on the Treasury Department to release more information to the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a newly created oversight panel that told congressional leaders last week it wasn’t getting access to data on PPP and other programs.
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“American taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent,” a spokesperson for Mr. Shelby said.
Labor unions are seeking information regarding which businesses received PPP loans as they try to advocate for workers who have lost their jobs or benefits because of the pandemic. Unite Here Local 11, which represents hotel and food-service workers in Arizona and Southern California, sent letters to 71 hotels where its members work asking if they had received loans, said Kurt Petersen, its co-president. Forty-five hotels responded, but 26 didn’t.
“The transparency about who got the loans and who didn’t is a big problem,” Mr. Petersen said.
Media companies including Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, sued the SBA on May 12, saying it was in violation of the Freedom of Information Act for not quickly releasing information on the PPP, including loan data. The lawsuit cites “the public interest in contemporaneously monitoring the disbursement of billions of taxpayer dollars.”
The SBA responded June 12, saying in part that it isn’t legally required to disclose some of the information reporters are seeking.
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—Yuka Hayashi contributed to this article.
Write to Ryan Tracy at [email protected]
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