On July 6, the U.S. Treasury Department released a database on the Payroll Protection Program, the recently ended business relief program that administered $700 billion in taxpayer-backed small-business loans.
The data release came in response to a lawsuit filed in May by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal parent company Dow Jones, Bloomberg LP and ProPublica, demanding enforcement of the federal freedom-of-information law.
The media and other observers were eager to see where the money went, especially how much to the smaller small businesses and how much to larger ones, including public companies and large professional service companies like big law, accounting and insurance firms.
Only those companies in the highest brackets of loan recipients — over $149,000 — were named in the database, and you can search it here: SBA DATABASE.
Familiar names in Alabama business registered in all categories, $150,000 to $350,000; $350,000 to $1 million; $1 million to $2 million; $2 million to $5 million, and $5 million to $10 million.
But one problem with that information is that the Treasury Department did not make note of the fact that some of the companies named actually terminated their loan applications before receiving the relief money.
“We were like everybody else who got funds when the market was in free fall and we did not know what to expect,” says DeLynn Zell, CEO of Bridgeworth Wealth Management, whose organizational name, Bridgeworth LLC, was listed as a PPP loan recipient in the Treasury database, in the $350,000 to $1 million bracket. “But in late April, the markets were recovering and we took a hard look. Our revenue was down marginally, but our portfolios were holding up well, and we were bringing on new clients, and it became pretty clear to us the program wasn’t meant for the likes of us.
“It was not the intent of the program. The funds were really needed by firms shutting their doors and laying off employees. It was not for companies that could just pass the benefits on to the owners. We felt it was just not the right thing to do,” says Zell.
The problem for Bridgeworth and other companies that came to that same decision to return the loan money, the U.S. Treasury made no accounting of the return of funds when they released their data.
At the time Bridgeworth returned the unused loan, says Zell, “They (Treasury officials) said they wouldn’t put our name on a list that we received it.”
Failure to make good on that promise is regrettable, she adds, though she can understand excuses. “It was a massive program to roll out in a short period of time. Mistakes were made, but plenty benefited from it, plenty.”
Zell says her company is fortunate in not being in the more vulnerable sectors of the economy in need of small business relief, and she foresees the need for another initiative like the PPP for those suffering now from a new wave of storefront shutdowns.
“I think it’s going to be needed. We’re not at the end of this, especially with what we’re facing right now. It’s going to be critical to see more stimulus to help small businesses.”