Data gaps make relief payments to WA officials difficult to trace

Inconsistent information

The $790 billion Paycheck Protection Program is one of the largest federal efforts to provide economic stability while detailing those payments in publicly available data. But that’s still a fraction of the pandemic expense, offers inconsistent results, and is open to misinterpretation.

For example, the first PPP data lists the approved loan totals, not the actual amounts accepted, bringing scrutiny to companies that had actually turned down bailout loans. State Rep. Wilcox said Wilcox Farms turned down most of its approved $2.8 million loan, later receiving about $1 million as a waiver.

Wilcox, R-Yelm, said PPP loans have proven to be one of the best parts of the government’s response to the pandemic. The aide helped her family’s farm keep staff working and producing food at the height of the crisis.

“It was important,” he said. “That was exactly why.”

Wilcox said he thinks the program provides the necessary transparency, but he wouldn’t mind if he were to include it in financial reporting. He noted that he would prefer that relief programs continue to carry the burden of reporting beneficiaries instead of adding new disclosures to individual declarations.

The Small Business Administration has updated PPP data several times, but the lag in detail can confuse loan totals approved, accepted, and later canceled. Searching public PPP data can also be imprecise. Companies with similar or matching names make it difficult to confirm which entities do or do not have ties to officials.

Expanding individual reporting rules to specifically capture the COVID-19 stimulus would mean each official would have all payments in multiple companies or relief programs listed together in one place. It could also improve consistency in describing payments and avoid variations in spelling or formatting that can make it difficult for businesses to match to separate data.

Amid recent backlash to GOP criticism of President Biden’s student loan forgiveness proposal, many have taken to social media to post Republican PPP loan totals. At least one loan to a company with a similar name was wrongly attributed to Representative Newhouse.

Newhouse received about $320,000 in canceled loans, and his wife’s consulting firm, Capitol Connections, received an additional $21,000 in canceled PPP loans.

“PPP loans have allowed private businesses to continue operating, providing jobs and economic output to their communities, despite restrictions imposed by the federal government,” a spokesperson wrote to Crosscut. “Newhouse Farms was eligible to apply for PPP loans in the first round of funding and applied for and received funding like any other entity would.”

For this story, Crosscut pulled recent financial disclosure reports from people running for federal office this year and searched for business matches with relief payments. A small sample of official state and local reports was also selected for comparison. (A disclosure report could not be found online for Newhouse’s 4th congressional district challenger, Democrat Doug White, and Republican candidate for the 7th congressional district, Cliff Moon, said he does not had not yet filed his report because his campaign had been launched in recent months.)

Several other candidates whom Crosscut asked to comment on their reported payouts did not respond, including Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tiffany Smiley. Data shows she received a $2,700 forfeited loan to Hope Unseen in Pasco, where she is running as a partner.

Republican candidate for Washington’s 8th congressional district, Matt Larkin, is running as a board member and legal advisor to Romac Industries in Bothell, where his children also own a stake. Romac Industries received nearly $6.5 million in canceled PPP funding.

Democrat Gluesenkamp Perez, who is running for the state’s 3rd congressional district, also did not respond to questions about federal aid for her family’s auto repair shop.

Many small state and local relief programs offer no public data to compare with disclosure reports. Several rounds of state-trading stimulus grants have not released data on recipients, and US bailout money passed by cities and counties does not list subrecipients for many development grants. economy at the local level.

Some state-level applicants have reported these grants, but often under different names. Janelle Cass, a Republican candidate for the state Senate in the 21st Legislative District, said she received a $25,000 “Working WA” grant. She described the money as extremely useful for her Edmonds business.

Cass said she understands concerns about transparency, noting that the PDC could be a “one-stop shop” for payment information about potential conflicts of interest.

“I don’t know how voters would have access otherwise,” she said.

State Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, a 6.5% owner of a minor league baseball team that received $437,000 in PPP, told Crosscut that he supported “full transparency” on federal aid.

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