Today, after months of blustering, the Small Business Association (SBA) and the Treasury Department finally released a list of all the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans of more than $150,000. This follows a five-week extension to the program now approved by President Donald Trump to allow the remaining $131.9 billion to be spent.
As was expected, the list is likely to cause some consternation and give us plenty to talk and wonder about. For instance, in an ironic twist, the conservative Americans for Tax Reform Foundation, headed by Grover Norquist to advocate for restraint in government spending, applied for and was awarded a PPP loan of between $150,000 and $350,000, according to the data disclosed by the SBA. At the same time, as Bloomberg notes, “In Los Angeles, the opera and the Hammer Museum, founded by Armand Hammer, the former chairman of Occidental Petroleum Corp. and funded by the company to exhibit his personal art collection, each received loans of $2 million to $5 million.”
Additionally, early in the process, despite the fact that the program was intended to support small businesses, a number of large chains were revealed to have taken the loans—which, if one meets the guidelines, are forgivable. Some returned their loans under scrutiny from the public, but others did not, and there has been a good deal of speculation about where the really high-end loans have gone to date. Now you can find out here, but we summarize the list by observing that, yes, some members of Congress did benefit, and not all who received the money might be defined as those most in need, even among the nonprofit recipients.
Here, we break for a moment to emphasize that this is, in fact, a paycheck protection program. But, instead of judging whether an organization needed the help by its potential to take a nosedive during the pandemic (which would admittedly have been almost impossible given the time frame), or even by the size of its budget, the program used the number of employees as its proxy.
Some for-profits made their way around these requirements by applying in the names of separate locations. Some nonprofit networks like Planned Parenthood and Goodwill found themselves able to apply for individual sites that were separately incorporated and did so as well. As Politico reports, “Goodwill Industries International, a major nonprofit with billions in revenue, received a loan of between $2 million and $5 million, while more than 70 of its individual locations also got funds.”
But for some nonprofits providing direct services with relatively thin margins, there were no workarounds, and this has led to some large-scale layoffs in the sector, even as others with more of a cushion and fewer jobs at risk received the stimulus.
As Bloomberg reports, “Several of the nation’s most elite cultural institutions, some with hefty endowments and catering to the wealthy, received millions of dollars in coronavirus-relief loans.”
The institutions—such as Carnegie Hall and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the San Francisco Symphony—were among the largest recipients of aid to nonprofits under the program, with each of them receiving injections in the range of $5 million to $10 million.
Carnegie Hall, one of the nation’s premiere performing arts spaces, received a loan of $5 million to $10 million despite having net assets of $3.4 billion as of last year, most of which it holds in investments.
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Meanwhile, in Minnesota, direct service organizations working with people who are especially vulnerable—due to homelessness or disability, for instance—are laying off and furloughing essential workers because they do not qualify to apply. Nine of these approximately 100 organizations have asked their congresspersons for help in accessing the dollars. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has introduced a bill, the WORK NOW Act—cosponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH)—which has been endorsed by Jon Pratt of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.
Pratt, who heads the Council, says most nonprofits in Minnesota have fewer than 500 employees, so they qualify for Paycheck Protection Program loans, and that 78 percent of the nonprofits responding to a recent survey said they received PPP loans worth, on average, 14 percent of their annual budget. More than 42,000 nonprofits received these loans, but Pratt says that employees of these 100 nonprofits comprise two-thirds of the state’s nonprofit workforce, and some of have been among those hit hardest by the coronavirus.
Readers know NPQ is a big supporter of arts institutions, and we do not take lightly the bind they are in, but the 500-employee measure doesn’t fully account for organizations—and the people they work with—operating on thin, nonexistent, or negative margins. At this point, and as we face a downturn that appears to be far more extensive and extended than originally anticipated, they must be allowed access to these important funds.
There is so much to consider here. Just last week, NPQ wrote about a federal bill that extended the filing deadline for PPP to August 8th, an almost meaningless measure, since applications, even after tons of rules changes, had slowed to a trickle in June. Indeed, many businesses and nonprofits have, after rehiring people on PPP for the 10-week funding period, are laying off staff again.
There are two critical issues here: 1) continued mass unemployment, and 2) preserving the nation’s infrastructure of small businesses and nonprofits. The PPP uncomfortably tries to accomplish both purposes at once, with some success, but evident shortfalls too.
We’ve noted many times before how other countries have avoided mass unemployment nearly entirely by subsidizing payroll directly throughout the pandemic. Bills to do this in the US have languished. There is also the possibility of mobilizing the federal government to act as an employer of last resort.
If Congress fails to adopt either of those measures, then at the minimum a second round of PPP support is needed for nonprofits, large and small, and for the millions of small businesses unable to directly access the Federal Reserve window. Included in this should be a provision to ensure that larger nonprofits, many of whom have been unable to access either Federal Reserve support or forgivable loans, get at least a first bite at the PPP apple.
A letter that endorses both of these steps is being advanced by a coalition of nonprofit groups; nonprofits have until July 10th to add their organization’s name to the letter.
Clearly, the economic downturn will last far longer than some anticipated. Given that reality, the nation must act to protect organizations’ important human infrastructure, which means additional legislation to stave off losses, whether in childcare or culture.
Disclosure: NPQ received a PPP loan in the amount of $202,432.56.