'We Never Agreed to Full Transparency.' Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Defends Limits on Paycheck Protection Program Disclosures
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended his department's decision to publish only an incomplete list of paycheck protection loan recipients, but said Congress could receive additional information as part of its regulatory reviews.
"This was a program that we never agreed to full transparency about, and the reason is that the loan amount depends on the salary," Mnuchin said in an interview during the TIME100 talks on Tuesday. “I wanted to make sure we didn't disclose the loan amount and company name for the very small companies. Because if we did, you could give people's compensation, and we didn't think it was fair. "
Mnuchin told TIME that he was not against providing more information to Congress as long as it remains confidential. "Because these are monitoring committees that keep information confidential, they have access to more information," he said. "We are very much in favor of Congress making it clear how we distribute this money."
The Paycheck Protection Program, a core part of President Trump's $ 2.2 trillion coronavirus bailout package that went into effect last March, manages government-sponsored loans to companies with up to 500 employees that can be converted into grants when most of the funds are spent on payroll. The program is run by the Small Business Administration, and Congress has allocated $ 649 billion for it. Almost 80 percent of this funding was spent on June 19. (The final deadline for applying for a loan is June 30th).
Despite the high price of the program, the government has yet to release data on which companies received the loans. The only information provided was obtained either through voluntary disclosure or through filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This lack of transparency has sparked the anger of watchdogs and lawmakers, particularly since the data available has given an image that suggests that the program has disproportionately disadvantaged women and minority companies. It also marks a precedent break; Other loan programs subsidized by the SBA have been publishing data for almost thirty years.
After Mnuchin was criticized again during a congressional hearing last week for not intending to disclose the credit information, he partially reversed his stance. On June 19, SBA and the Treasury announced that they would disclose the names and businesses of companies that have received more than $ 150,000, despite the fact that the loans are disclosed in areas rather than in exact amounts. The average loan is $ 110,000, according to the SBA, which means that many companies that have received loans are not disclosed. As the SBA stated in its press release, the amounts it disclosed make up only 75 percent of the approved loans. The names and businesses of loans under $ 150,000 are not publicly disclosed, although they are grouped by categories such as industry and zip code.
Some Democrats quickly pointed out that this was not ideal. Senate Minority President 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 can be compared to keeping the names of workers who seek extended unemployment insurance secret. "I have never heard anyone in Congress say," We want to see the names of everyone who has increased unemployment, "he said.
Even if the components of the March aid package continue to be eradicated, Mnuchin admitted during the interview that another round of funding is likely to be required and that Congress will work on this package next month. "We expect more fiscal measures to be taken," he said. However, he didn't go into what a potential deal might look like.
The House Democrats passed a $ 3 trillion aid package in May, but the Senate Republicans largely dismissed it 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 - extended unemployment insurance - expires at the end of July, and legislators are largely party-politically divided about renewal.
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