Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he will talk to lawmakers about small business bailout disclosure

U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin announces new sanctions on Iran in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, January 10, 2020.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday he will talk with the Senate and others on a “bipartisan basis” about striking a balance between protecting the privacy of recipients of small business loans and ensuring proper oversight of the funds.

Mnuchin said in a tweet he will be having discussions with the Senate Small Business Committee and others “to strike the appropriate balance for proper oversight” of the Paycheck Protection Program loans “and appropriate protection of small business information.”

Mnuchin angered Democrats last week when he indicated in testimony before the Senate Small Business Committee that the administration may not disclose the names of those who took out loans aimed at helping smaller businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Mnuchin said the names and amounts of particular loans were “confidential,” citing privacy concerns.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the decision to keep that information confidential “only serves to raise further suspicions about how the funds are being distributed and who is actually benefiting.”

Rep. Katie Porter and Sen. Kamala Harris, both Democrats, wrote to Mnuchin and Small Business Administration head Jovita Carranza on Friday urging disclosure. Porter and Harris demanded the two agencies “fulfill all outstanding FOIA requests” for information about the PPP loans, citing the”unprecedented size and nature of the PPP” and “numerous examples of fraud and abuse that have already surfaced.”

As of Friday, the PPP has supported 4.5 million loans for a total loan value of $512 billion, with roughly $130 billion still to be spent.

Whether those loans have gone to the businesses most in need has been a point of contention. The program went through several rounds of guidance adjusting the stipulations around the loans after disclosures that some public companies, including the owners of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Shake Shack, were among the recipients. They, and other public companies, returned the loans following public outcry

In an April push to inject the program with an additional $310 billion, Democrats sought to push for more assurances that those funds would go to smaller businesses and minority groups. The deal struck between Republicans and Democrats allocated $60 billion of that sum for rural and minority groups.

On Monday, Sen Marco Rubio, R-Fla., chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business, tweeted that the committee would be targeting the disparity of the impact of the financial crisis on minority businesses in the next phase of the program. 

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