Herb Miller was taken aback when he learned that the Trump administration announced that his sole proprietorship in Hixson, Tennessee had been approved for a coronavirus relief loan of up to $ 5 million. The amount was $ 3,700, he said.

“There is something wrong there,” said Miller, who has been an accountant for nearly five decades. “I’m going to have to fix this. “

Bloomberg News analysis shows data from Paycheque Protection Program loans totaling more than $ 521 billion released on July 6 are riddled with anomalies. Although the maximum PPP loan for a one-person business is $ 20,833, over 75,000 loans with retained employment have larger amounts, including 154 with a million dollars or more.

The PPP was designed to keep small business employees on the payroll during the pandemic. Out of nearly 4.9 million loans, the number of “retained jobs” is zero for 554,146 and blank for 324,122. Seven loans show negative job numbers.

Conversely, nearly a thousand entries report 500 jobs for loans under $ 150,000, which is mathematically questionable given that the aid is based on 2.5 times the average monthly payroll. from a company. In 209 of these cases, this implies an average monthly salary of $ 4 or less per employee. Taken together, these figures call into question the number of jobs in 1 in 5 PPP loans.

The anomalies cast doubt on the accuracy of the data for the centerpiece of the $ 2.2 trillion relief plan enacted in March, including whether they supported the 51.1 million jobs the administration has touted.

The PPP program is already facing backlash for distributing millions of dollars to top law firms, Wall Street executives, and companies with ties to President Trump and other politicians. Now critics say data issues make it difficult to assess how well the program is working, especially because borrower names have been redacted for small loans which account for around 87% of the number of loans.

“We, as American taxpayers, spend over half a trillion dollars supposedly to help keep small businesses afloat,” said Kyle Herrig, chairman of Accountable.US, a government watchdog group. who often criticizes the Trump administration. “We should know where the money went, how many jobs were saved, and at the moment, with the data, we don’t have that ability to say for sure.”

The number of jobs reported is based on information provided by applicants, according to a spokesperson for the Treasury Department, which manages the PPP with the Small Business Administration. Although some borrowers may have wrongly omitted the number of jobs, the total value of loans approved is consistent with supporting around 51 million jobs based on the average compensation of employees in small businesses, a declared the spokesperson.

Under the program, borrowers file their application through an approved lender. After the SBA issues a loan guarantee number for banks to disburse funds, the lender and borrower can agree to a lower amount, the spokesperson said. The SBA and Treasury did not explain how some million dollar loans in the data are much higher than the amount some borrowers said they requested and received.

Some banks have said the problem with the jobs data is that neither the PPP application nor the SBA’s electronic system, called E-Tran, which lenders use to submit applications, required an entry for “retained jobs.” “. The request had a box for “number of employees” and some lenders said they submitted this number while others said they left it blank.

The Washington Trust Bank said that E-Tran, normally used for the SBA’s main 7 (a) loan program, offered three fields of job information: existing, created, or retained. In the absence of advice from the agency, the bank said it had entered its extension numbers in the “existing” field. The SBA dataset released last week only shows retained jobs, which helps explain why this category has so many zeros.

The Spokane-based bank said it has processed more than 5,000 PPP loans, affecting 117,714 jobs, as of July 3. SBA data shows 5,268 loans, with 6,336 jobs retained.

Washington Trust said it was contacting the media to explain why the job numbers were incorrect and that it was encouraging the SBA to clarify its data collection process and correct its information.

“The misleading SBA data has surprised and appalled businesses and small business owners who now receive calls from the media and customers,” Washington Trust chairman Jack Heath said in a statement.

Getting the right number of jobs will be even more important when borrowers apply for a loan forgiveness: business owners will need to prove that they’ve maintained their workforce and wages for their help to turn into a grant. If the SBA determines that a borrower is not eligible, the agency will order the lender to deny forgiveness of the loan, the Treasury spokesperson said.

Proponents credit the PPP, created and implemented within days, for the rapid funding of millions of small U.S. businesses that self-certified they needed funding while the businesses were shut down. They say that an unprecedented program, rolled out so quickly, is bound to have problems.

Bloomberg News spoke to more than a dozen companies that the government says have received loans of more than $ 1 million with one reported job retained. The borrowers all said there were mistakes in the database.

Frank Demandt, owner of an architectural firm in Miami, said he had four employees and the loan was grossly overestimated. He said he received $ 19,700, not the $ 1 million to $ 2 million range cited in SBA data. Demandt’s lender, BankUnited Inc., confirmed the loan amount and said it was unsure why the data said otherwise.

In Star City, Ark., Gregory Smith was stunned. The managing director of C&L Electric Cooperative Corp., which supplies electricity to more than 20,000 customers in a rural part of the state, said in his application that the company has about 100 employees.

“If that shows a job is being kept, it’s a long way off,” Smith said.

Several companies, including scooter rental service Bird Rides Inc., have complained that they appear in the data even though they have not requested or received help.

“I actually never received a PPP loan,” said Bridget Ottoh of the Ottoh Group in Mount Juliet, Tenn., Who has been listed as having been approved for a loan of $ 2-5 million. “I asked for it and then I took it off.”

The SBA Inspector General, who produced a report in May criticizing the agency for failing to collect demographic data to prioritize loans to underserved and rural areas as Congress intended, has an ongoing review implementation of the PPP and is aware of public reports of anomalies, said spokesperson Sheldon Shoemaker. Data analysis is part of investigations and reviews, he said.

Miller, the Tennessee accountant whose loan was reported between $ 2 million and $ 5 million in SBA data, said he learned of the mistake when a friend saw his name on a list of recipients of PPP published in a local newspaper. website and asked why Miller hadn’t left town yet. The lender, Millennium Bank, could not be reached for comment.

“This is all a joke,” Miller said.

Bloomberg writers Jason Grotto, David Ingold, Nic Querolo, Olga Kharif, Drew Hutchinson, Catherine Leffert, Ed Ludlow, and Renata S. Geraldo contributed to this report.


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