Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended his department’s decision to only release a partial list of the Paycheck Protection Program’s loan recipients, but said Congress could obtain additional information as part of its oversight probes.
“This was a program we never agreed to full transparency, and the reason for that is the loan amount is based upon the amount of salary,” Mnuchin said in an interview as part of the TIME100 Talks on Tuesday. “What I wanted to make sure was for the very small businesses we would not disclose the loan amount and the company name. Because if we did that, you would be able to tell people’s compensation, and we didn’t think that was fair.”
Mnuchin told TIME that he was not opposed to providing Congress with more information, as long as it remains confidential. “As it relates to oversight committees that keep information confidential, they will have access to more information,” he said. “We are very much in favor in making sure Congress is very clear in how we are distributing this money.”
The Paycheck Protection Program, a centerpiece of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package President Trump signed into law last March, administers federally backed loans to businesses of up to 500 employees that can be turned into grants if the majority of the funds are spent on payroll. The program is run by the Small Business Administration, and Congress has allotted $649 billion in funding for it. Nearly 80 percent of those funds had been spent as of June 19th. (The final deadline to apply for a loan is June 30th).
Despite the high price tag of the program, the administration has yet to release any data about what companies have received the loans; the only information made available has been gleaned through either voluntary disclosures or filings with the securities and exchange commission. This lack of transparency has raised the ire of watchdogs and lawmakers, particularly since the data that has been available has painted a picture that indicates the program has disproportionately disadvantaged minority and female-owned businesses. It also marks a break with precedent; other SBA-subsidized loan programs have released data for nearly thirty years.
After facing yet another round of criticism for stating during a congressional hearing last week that he did not intend to release the loan information, Mnuchin partially reversed his stance. On June 19, SBA and the Treasury Department announced they will disclose the names and businesses of companies who had received upwards of $150,000, although the loans will be disclosed in ranges instead of exact amounts. The average loan, according to SBA, is $110,000, meaning many companies who received loans will not be disclosed. As the SBA noted in its press release, the amounts they are disclosing only account for 75 percent of the loans approved. The names and businesses of loans under $150,000 will not be disclosed publicly, although they will be aggregated by categories like industry and zip code.
Some Democrats were quick to point out this was not ideal. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it “a good start,” but he also noted that Democrats would continue to push for “maximum transparency” regarding these funds.
In his interview, Mnuchin argued that not disclosing this information was akin to keeping private the names of workers seeking expanded unemployment insurance. “I haven’t heard anybody in Congress say, ‘We want to see the names of everybody whose received enhanced unemployment,'” he said.
Even as components of the March relief package continue to be hashed out, Mnuchin acknowledged during the interview that another round of funding will likely be necessary and that Congress will work on that package next month. “We do anticipate there will be a need for more fiscal response,” he said. He did not, however, elaborate on what a potential deal could look like.
House Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package in May, but it has largely been dismissed by Republicans in the Senate as a political stunt. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell called it a "liberal wish list."
One of the most controversial features of the first package — expanded unemployment insurance — expires at the end of July, and lawmakers are split, largely along party lines, about renewing it.