Following messy start, enormous Paycheck Protection Program shows signs of buttressing economy
By Jonathan O’Connell, Jeanne Whalen, Jeff Stein and Erica Werner
The Washington Post
June 9, 2020
After a flood of complaints, balky computer systems, changed rules and frantic calls to the Treasury Department, the federal government’s small business Paycheck Protection Program is suddenly looking like a measured success.
The U.S. economy buckled in March and April amid the coronavirus pandemic, but it appeared to regain some of its footing in May, adding 2.5 million jobs. The economy remains extremely weak, with a high unemployment rate and a surge in Americans seeking assistance. Many economists think conditions will remain shaky for at least another year.
But they also think things would be even worse without the giant loan forgiveness program, which Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) shepherded through Congress and then helped defend during chaotic weeks of implementation.
Two months later, the PPP has directed more than $530 billion to 4.5 million companies, and economists, business leaders, White House officials and lawmakers from both parties think it helped stabilize the economy.
The program is now about to enter a new stage, as many of the companies that received loans will begin applying for loan forgiveness to determine whether they have to repay the money. The program will also face its first congressional hearing on Wednesday, when Rubio will call Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who had appeared skeptical about creating the program while the legislation was being drafted, and Small Business Association head Jovita Carranza to testify.
Rubio said in an interview that part of his inquiry will focus on “some early regulatory decisions, made or not made, that could have provided a little bit of clarity on the front end and sort of prevented some of the issues that happened.”
Rubio and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), two sponsors of the program, say there are things they would have done differently. Although the first $349 billion allocated was more than initial drafts of the legislation called for, Rubio said that in retrospect, it’s clear that the program should have been funded at a higher level to begin with.
Some who were skeptical of the program early on have now changed their tune. Despite criticizing the way public companies tapped into it, NFIB now considers the program a “qualified success,” said Kevin Kuhlman, the group’s vice president of federal government relations. He said a recent NFIB survey found that 77 percent of small businesses had applied for loans under the program, and 93 percent had been approved.
Wade, the Oklahoma City banker, said her staff worked 14-hour days when PPP began. She said she was hoarse by the end of the first week, after going through applications with carpenters, contractors, restaurant owners and dozens of others.
All in all, she said, “I believe the program has worked, regardless of its ease of use."
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