June 13, 2020; New York Times
Claiming that the identities of those who received taxpayer-funded PPP loans under the CARES Act are “proprietary information,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin moved from delaying to refusing to disclose how the stimulus money has been spent beyond how much was awarded within what periods of time.
US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is not satisfied.
“Given the many problems with the program, it is imperative American taxpayers know if the money is going where Congress intended—to the truly small and unbanked small business,” said Schumer on Friday. “The administration’s resistance to transparency is outrageous and only serves to raise further suspicions about how the funds are being distributed and who is actually benefiting.”
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South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, who heads a committee overseeing the Trump administration response to the pandemic, agrees. “Hiding recipients of federal funds is unacceptable and must end.”
Clyburn, a Democrat, said in a statement to the Associated Press, “American taxpayers deserve to know if their money is being used to help struggling small businesses, as Congress intended, or instead is being siphoned off through waste, fraud and abuse.”
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who supports Mnuchin’s position, said in a statement of her own last Friday that public disclosure of the loans would naturally reveal proprietary information about the businesses that requested the money, due to the way the loans were calculated. However, as the Washington Post reports:
The loan application for the Paycheck Protection Program includes this notice to potential borrowers: Under the Freedom of Information Act and with certain exceptions, the SBA “must supply information reflected in agency files and records to a person requesting it.”
Mnuchin has promised to allow GAO auditors access to information about loan recipients and amounts, but given the public outcry about some recipients who could not exactly be called “small businesses,” and the concerns over conflicts based on the fact that four congresspeople have benefited personally from the loans, news organizations are unlikely to stop pressing for the information. A number have long since gone to court to try to get the data under the Freedom of Information Act.—Ruth McCambridge