Data Raises Questions About Who Benefited From PPP Loans

Jul 8, 2020
Originally published on July 8, 2020 9:08 pm

Many of the companies and organizations getting loans from the Paycheck Protection Program – billed by the SBA as a lifeline for struggling, small companies — aren't what anyone would think of as small businesses.

Among them:

Large restaurant chains, including Applebee's, P.F. Chang's, Ruby Tuesday and TGI Fridays, got loans between $5 million and $10 million.

The Greenbrier Hotel Corporation, a luxury resort owned by West Virginia's billionaire governor James Justice, got a loan between $5 million and $10 million.

Musician and fashion designer Kanye West's company, Yeezy LLC, got a loan for at least $2 million.

Religious organizations, including Roman Catholic dioceses in several states, the Church of Scientology and megachurch Willow Creek received loans ranging from $150,000 to several million dollars.

A long list of well-connected Washington think tanks, law firms and lobbyists got loans, including Americans for Tax Reform, founded by Grover Norquist, a longtime opponent of federal spending. The organization got a loan between $150,000 and $300,000. Also on the list were businesses connected to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband and President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

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The Church of Scientology, Planned Parenthood and a company owned by Kanye West all have something in common - they got loans from the government's Paycheck Protection Program. The money was intended to help small businesses during this pandemic keep workers on staff, but a lot of the recipients were not exactly small businesses. Here's NPR's Jim Zarroli.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia has been a stomping ground for the rich and famous for decades. Its ads cultivate an image of exclusivity and quiet good taste.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Inside and out, this majestic property lives up to its reputation as one of the most unique and luxurious resorts in the world.

ZARROLI: The Greenbrier is also owned by West Virginia's billionaire Governor Jim Justice, so it's nobody's idea of a small business. But when the travel industry tanked this spring, the Greenbrier applied for and received a loan of between five and ten million dollars. The emergency loan program was put together quickly in late March. It was billed by Small Business Administration head Jovita Carranza as a lifeline for struggling small companies.


JOVITA CARRANZA: Simply put, the Paycheck Protection Program is to help keep employees on payroll and small businesses open.

ZARROLI: The PPP was officially a loan program for companies with fewer than 500 employees, but the loans were forgiven if the recipients agreed not to lay anyone off. For many companies, it's been nothing less than a lifesaver. Tony Rosanova is president of the Montana-based Zoot Enterprises, a software services company that serves retail and banking customers. Because of the loan he got, he's been able to keep his nearly 300 employees working.

TONY ROSANOVA: What it allowed us to do was make long-range plans to secure our employees and their families. And so we are just tremendously grateful, and I think it's a great program.

ZARROLI: But the 700,000 beneficiaries of the program also included a long list of high-status recipients - country clubs, elite private schools, high-powered law firms connected to super lawyers like David Boies and President Trump's personal attorney Mark Kasowitz. They all got money to keep their workers on the payroll. Kanye West got a loan of between two and five million dollars for his apparel company Yeezy.


KANYE WEST: I want people to feel like it's OK to make mistakes in front of people and follow what their dreams are.

ZARROLI: Many of the recipients aren't exactly businesses at all. They're megachurches, universities, public radio stations. And there's also a long parade of well-connected Washington think tanks, advocacy groups and lobbying firms. Among them is Americans for Tax Reform, founded by Grover Norquist, a longtime opponent of federal spending. Here he is on CNN in 2013.


GROVER NORQUIST: If you look at the seven wealthiest counties in the United States, they're all around Washington, D.C. So the federal government spends a lot of time accumulating other people's resources.

ZARROLI: Norquist's organization got a loan of between one hundred-and-fifty and three hundred thousand dollars. Several other Washington power players got loans, too - businesses connected to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband and the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kyle Herrig is with the government watchdog group

KYLE HERRIG: I think the data raises a lot of questions about who the program actually helped. Should taxpayer dollars have been used to prop up specific industries and companies like those with close ties to the president's family or celebrities like Kanye West?

ZARROLI: Herrig says he doesn't know if there's anything illegal about any of this, but he says it ought to raise a red flag about the program and who's really benefiting from it.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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