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ProPublica, along with The Washington Post, Bloomberg, The New York Times and Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, sued the Small Business Administration on Tuesday over its refusal to release detailed information for loans provided through the $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program.
The PPP, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses, was launched by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act as one of the central government programs to respond to the coronavirus crisis.
The program has been plagued with problems, and five weeks after it was launched, the SBA has yet to divulge the names of any recipients. The names of a few — Shake Shack, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and the Los Angeles Lakers among them — have come out through other means. Those three returned the loans after an outcry.
The SBA hasn’t argued that the names of the companies that get these loans should stay secret. It has instead pointed to generalized statistics on its website or put off responding to the FOIA requests until sometime in the future. “At this time, the agency is focusing its efforts on assisting small businesses during this unprecedented disruption to the economy due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak,” says a message on the SBA’s website.
ProPublica, along with the four other news organizations, requested the information under the Freedom of Information Act.
“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. “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.”
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