A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has ordered the U.S. Small Business Administration to disclose detailed information about the $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans by November 19.
The decision was in response to a lawsuit filed in May by several news organizations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The suit requested the Small Business Administration (SBA) to release records that would provide basic information, including borrowers’ names and precise loan amounts, about private businesses that received PPP loans. The judge’s ruling also includes Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) loans.
SBA Ordered to Disclose PPP Loan Information
“(The SBA) shall release the names, addresses, and precise loan amounts of all individuals and entities that obtained COVID-related loans pursuant to the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans program by November 19, 2020,” wrote U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg, in the order, adding that the “significant public interest” in shedding light on SBA’s administration of the PPP and EIDL programs outweighs any limited private interest in nondisclosure.
The PPP Loans
The federal government dispersed the forgivable PPP loans as part of the CARES act to help small businesses fund employee salaries and other expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The SBA has yet to release any of the loan recipients’ names. The plaintiffs filed the suit to determine if the funds were going to qualified businesses, not large corporations. Experts say that could deter fraud and abuse in a future round of PPP loans approved by Congress, according to the Portland (Ore.) Business Journal.
“Enormous amounts of taxpayer money are being committed to what is supposed to be a lifeline for millions of struggling American businesses,” said ProPublica General Counsel Jeremy Kutner. (ProPublica is a plaintiff in the suit.) “The public has an urgent right and need to know how it is being spent, and whether it is being directed to those most in need. We are pleased to be acting along with colleagues at other leading news organizations to make sure this information promptly sees the light of day.”
In July, the SBA had released detailed information for PPP loans above $150,000, representing only a fraction of the total number.
It is unclear if the SBA will appeal the ruling. An SBA spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the federal agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.