It has reportedly been ignoring Freedom of Information Act requests from the ‘New York Times’ and others.
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On Tuesday, five major news organizations sued the Small Business Administration for refusing to release details on how the SBA has dispersed the $659 billion that Congress allotted to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Under the Freedom of Information Act, the New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg, ProPublica and Dow Jones (the publisher of The Wall Street Journal) have asked for insights on which companies received PPP and how much they received, but the SBA has continued to ignore their requests. Now, those publications are filing a joint lawsuit.
The SBA hasn’t argued that they should be allowed to keep the details under wraps, but that they plan on attending to FOIA requests at an indefinite later date. “At this time, the agency is focusing its efforts on assisting small businesses during this unprecedented disruption to the economy due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak,” reads a statement on its website.
Considering what’s come out so far about big companies like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse claiming (and returning) hundreds of millions of PPP loans meant for small businesses, it shouldn’t be surprising that news organizations are asking for total transparency about where the stimulus funds are actually going. (Businesses have until May 18 to return PPP funds they’ve claimed in error).
“Enormous amounts of taxpayer money are being committed to what is supposed to be a lifeline for millions of struggling American businesses,” said ProPublica General Counsel Jeremy Kutner. “The public has an urgent right and need to know how it is being spent, and whether it is being directed to those most in need. We are pleased to be acting along with colleagues at other leading news organizations to make sure this information promptly sees the light of day.”