The Small Business Administration and the U.S. Treasury on Monday released data that, for the first time, identifies companies receiving the largest loans through an emergency program meant to help small businesses survive the pandemic.
The Paycheck Protection Program is a $660 billion program for small businesses to help keep employees on payroll, but has drawn criticism for making payments to large companies.
Oregon and Washington received a combined $19 billion, according to the federal agencies. Oregon alone received 63,000 loans, according to the data, with some potentially as large as $10 million.
This week's data show where and to whom some of those federal dollars went. In Oregon and Southwest Washington — seven counties near the state border — there were more than 10,000 loans worth more than $150,000 each.
The disclosure, made after media organizations sued the federal government, shows large loans as unspecified ranges. For example, the largest loans are listed as between $5 million and $10 million.
Sixty-five organizations in Oregon and Southwest Washington received those large loans, according to a data analysis by OPB. Recipients include fast-food chain Burgerville, headquartered in Vancouver, Washington; Deschutes Brewery, McMenamin’s Inc., Pendleton Woolen Mills, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Association.
The program was designed to help companies weather the storm — temporarily.
“It was a safety net, in case things got worse,” said Thomas Garnier, president of SSI Shredding Systems, a Wilsonville manufacturer that received a more than $2 million loan. “We’re not all the way through it.”
It remains unclear what the loans will mean for jobs moving forward, economists said.
Sheer dollar amounts show industries like construction, manufacturing, health care and professional business services received substantial amounts of the loans, which are technically forgivable.
But Oregon economist Josh Lehner said the loan data doesn’t answer his biggest question.
“The real thing we don’t have, and we can’t get, is who needed it the most? Did we actually get the money in the bank accounts of the companies that needed it the most?” he said. “That’s something we’ll never know.”
Lehner dissected the data by county and found that in Oregon’s Wallowa, Jackson, Deschutes and Hood River counties, roughly 50% of local businesses received the emergency funds. He found the economic impact of the loans could be highest in Lake, Harney, Grant and Wallowa counties.
In Southwest Washington, specifically, the data show nearly 9,500 loans were made, amounting to at least $800 million. That includes Pacific, Wahkiakum, Lewis, Cowlitz, Clark, Skamania and Klickitat counties.
Most of the loans — approximately 4,600 — went to companies established in Vancouver, according to the data. Of those, 800 were loans worth more than $150,000. Seven Vancouver companies received loans worth more than $5 million.
The next three Southwest Washington cities with the most loans over $150,000 were Longview, Battle Ground and Chehalis – with about 70 loans each. Two companies between them notched a loan of at least $5 million: Wilson Oil Inc., in Longview, and Tapani Inc., in Battle Ground.
U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, described launching the program in April like “building an airplane while we’re also trying to fly it,” but she said, so far, she’s optimistic.
“The initial blush of information we’ve gotten from SBA is that people (in Southwest Washington) have been using it and it has saved jobs,” Herrera Beutler said. “Having said that, nothing’s perfect.”
In April, Herrera Beutler was one of three Washington state lawmakers who voted against forming a special committee to provide oversight of how federal dollars are distributed, according to The Seattle Times.
The congresswoman said through a spokesman that the committee would have been partisan, but that she supports a nonpartisan commission. She added she would support more federal dollars in the future.
“I think the reality is we’re going to continue wrestling this very dangerous alligator for months, and I think Congress has to stay flexible on this,” Herrera Beutler said.
The PPP program was designed to keep employees of small businesses on the payroll for about two months. Economist Lehner wonders what comes next.
“Trying to do a post-mortem on a program like this is really problematic because while the program is nearly over, the crisis it was designed to help is not over,” he said.