The Washington Post, The New York Times, Pro Publica, Dow Jones & Co. and Bloomberg LP filed a lawsuit against the Small Business Administration on Tuesday, seeking the identities of private businesses that have received public assistance through key coronavirus relief programs.
The SBA says that it will release individual data on loan recipients — just not right now.
The Paycheck Protection Program, which has so far backed more than $500 billion in loans, has come under scrutiny after the backlash against some chains, like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, for receiving loans. They ended up returning the funds.
All of the news organizations have filed Freedom of Information Act requests. In the lawsuit, they say that the SBA has “either failed to respond to the requests or it has issued boilerplate responses stating that, at some indefinite point, [I]n the near future,’ the SBA hopes “to turn [its] efforts to providing loan specific data to the public,’ the SBA’s responses provide no specific indication of what that data will include or when that data will actually be made available.”
The PPP loans, which are distributed through private lenders but backed by the SBA, can be forgiven if recipients retain employees and fulfill other requirements. The lawsuit also challenges the SBA’s denials of expedited processing to some of the outlets.
The media outlets argue that the information is needed quickly “because of the public interest in contemporaneously monitoring the disbursement of billions of taxpayer dollars through expansive federal initiatives — most notably the new Paycheck Protection Program — during this period of unprecedented financial and social disruption, and because the SBA has until now routinely provided such information about businesses that take out SBA loans.”
An SBA spokesperson said that they have no comment. Last month, the SBA said that they “intend to post individual loan data in accordance with the information presently on the SBA.gov website after the loan process has been completed.”