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Blanks, mistakes and typos: Data for U.S. coronavirus aid program reveals serious flaws

Posted at 6:34 PM, Dec 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-02 19:39:55-05

CLEVELAND — After court battles and delays, the U.S. Small Business Administration and The Treasury Department released the names of millions of businesses that received coronavirus relief aid Tuesday night, but News 5 Investigators found the data contains numerous flaws and omissions.

The government agencies were forced to release the information on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program after a federal judge ruled in favor of news organizations who argued the data should be made available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act.

The agencies had refused to provide information about who received money from the two programs, which were intended to support small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

A cursory review by News 5 revealed serious flaws in the data. For example, there is missing information about names, locations, and the number of jobs saved in the spreadsheets listing businesses approved to receive PPP funds.

News 5 found similar problems when data for PPP loans over $150,000 were released this summer.

RELATED: How many Ohio businesses received help from U.S. coronavirus bailout? Good question.

Jenna Kruse, the Director of Rapid Response Research and Communications at Accountable.US, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, said the data flaws indicate the government mismanaged the implementation of the aid programs.

"Really what that tells us is that there wasn't the oversight and accountability measures set up at the get-go from the Small Business Administration, from the federal government," Kruse said.

While the new PPP data showed nearly 125,000 Ohio businesses received PPP loans for less than $150,000, it is more difficult to determine an exact number of Cleveland businesses that received cash from the program, due to several typos.

The SBA data includes the following typos:

  • Cleveand
  • Clevelad
  • Clevelend
  • Clevelans
  • Clevelans
  • Clevelans
  • Clevland

Kruse said the sloppiness is an "alarm bell" that indicates widespread fraud.

"Unfortunately, because of its design and because of the way it was implemented, small businesses are getting left behind, while big companies, big corporations, and even fraudsters are abusing the PPP program," Kruse said.

Kruse said the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating suspicious loans, but it would be unlikely smaller loans would receive serious scrutiny.

The SBA has approved $525 billion in PPP loans for more than 5.2 million borrowers. The SBA has also approved $194 billion in EIDL loans for more than 3 million borrowers.

The SBA released information for recipients who received PPP loans over $150,000 in July, but only released aggregated data for borrowers who received smaller loans.

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