The Paycheck Protection Program, launched April 3, offered loans up to $10 million to help small businesses maintain payroll, hire back employees and cover rent and other overhead as the nation faced mass layoffs and spiking unemployment. For a program meant to help small businesses preserve jobs amid government-mandated shutdowns and the general economic upheaval caused by COVID-19, those zeros can look alarming. In many cases they are also wrong — raising questions about the reliability of the data showing how billions in taxpayer dollars are being used. The questionable jobs retention data has added to the scrutiny of whether PPP money went to businesses that need it most.
CTBA Executive Director Ralph Martire blames the flawed data on sloppy federal reporting requirements and the highly decentralized application process. Relying on thousands of lenders allowed loans to be processed more quickly during a critical time, but it also meant different banks may have asked applicants different questions.
“The decentralization is not good from an accountability standpoint,” Martire said. “It’s doomed to not be very transparent and not give you much information.”
Still, he thinks the overall program was beneficial and used properly by small businesses that needed it. While the government should clean up the reporting rules, he said, he doesn’t want the program’s flaws to discourage another stimulus package as the economy continues to reel and people continue to lose jobs.
In an interview with Chicago Tribune's Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Ralph Martire said, “I would hate to see the critiques of the misuse of this money by a few businesses get in the way of a better shot in the arm that the economy certainly needs,” Martire said. “The program could just be designed better.”