We now know more about how taxpayer dollars were used to help prop up businesses during the pandemic through the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.
NBC and 10 other organizations sued to make the information public. Last week, a judge ordered the Small Business Administration to provide the list.
So far, NBC 5 Responds’ analysis shows more than $41 billion went to 411,000 businesses in Texas. In North Texas, more than 1,900 businesses received at least $1 million.
NBC 5 Responds
It offers the most complete accounting to date of the more than $700 billion in forgivable loans Congress and the Trump administration introduced in the spring for expenses including payroll, rent, utilities and mortgage interest payments.
Businesses and nonprofits with up to 500 employees were eligible. The maximum forgivable loan offered was $10 million.
When the first round of funding opened, NBC 5 reported restaurants, which were hit especially hard by pandemic-related shutdowns and capacity limits, scrambled to get their applications in.
According to the SBA’s records, nine North Texas-based restaurant chains received the maximum $10 million loan.
The list includes Zoe’s Kitchen, Pei Wei, On the Border and the M Crowd Restaurant Group which owns Mi Cocina and Taco Diner.
Studio Movie Grill is also on the list and has since filed for bankruptcy protection.
NBC 5 Responds reached out to all the companies and none have replied.
What’s not clear from the records is how the money was used or if any of it was returned.
Earlier this year, Ruth’s Chris and Shake Shack were among the companies pledging to return PPP money after public outcry.
“There are other ways that big corporations can access money to help their employees outside of the Paycheck Protection Program, which is designed to help small businesses,” said Kyle Herrig – founder and president of Accountable.US – a nonpartisan government watchdog group.
Herrig said taxpayer dollars would have been better spent on mom and pop businesses that don’t have access to other revenue streams or investors to weather the pandemic.
“A lot of wealthy and well-connected businesses were able to get access to these loans,” said Herrig.
“You take $10 million, you slice that up by $100,000, that could have helped a lot of small businesses keep workers on their payrolls and that's not what happened,” added Herrig.
In an email to NBC 5 Responds, an SBA spokesperson wrote, “SBA’s historically successful COVID relief loan programs have helped millions of small businesses and tens of millions of American workers when they needed it most.”
Lauran Weiner of Big Al’s Smokehouse BBQ in Dallas said she turned to the Paycheck Protection Program when 14-days-to-flatten-the-curve stretched into months of little to no business.
Weiner received $114,700, which she said helped cover payroll for 18 employees and rent for 60 days. She said she's grateful, but that help didn’t go far in a pandemic that has now stretched into nine months.
“We really thought it was going to help and, to a degree, it did. It just isn’t unfortunately as helpful as we would hope,” said Weiner.
December, usually a busy time for the restaurant, is shaping up to be slow. Weiner is concerned about the first quarter of the next year.
“I haven't taken a salary and there's been a few months where my managers have taken a half salary to help out. Overall, we really prioritize our hourly employees and the people that need it the most. I think that's the most important part,” said Weiner.
Big Al’s, started by Weiner’s dad in the early 70’s has survived economic crashes and downturns before. Weiner is hopeful that resilience will carry the family-owned business through the pandemic.
“It’s going to be like rebuilding from scratch,” said Weiner.
Brooks Anderson, who co-owns Veritas Wine Room, Rapscallion, Hillside Tavern and Boulevardier restaurants in Dallas, said it is clear small businesses will continue to need economic stimulus.
He said his restaurant expanded outdoor dining service, but as cold weather sets in, business drops off dramatically – leaving few options for restaurants to pivot.
“We're not asking for a handout because we're lazy or we're not willing to work hard enough or we're not smart enough to figure it out,” said Anderson. “We're facing an invisible enemy. When a fire or a hurricane ravages your town, you can see the damage and it's easy to understand why those people need help and need it now.”
Anderson said he’s less concerned about the size of the business receiving help. He said future programs, if approved by Congress, should prioritize the size of the need.
“There's just got to be some showing that there's a need there. I don't think it needs to be that difficult,” Anderson said.
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