California gas station took coronavirus relief money before buying pro-Trump billboards: report
A California gas station reportedly purchased six pro-Trump billboards just months after securing a coronavirus relief loan from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which is meant to help struggling businesses avoid layoffs during the pandemic.
A CNN report on Friday said PPP records show that Jones 1, which owns a Shell gas station and travel center in Needles, Calif., was approved for a loan between $150,000 and $350,000 in April to retain 32 employees.
Months later, the company leased six large billboards promoting Trump’s campaign off of Arizona State Route 95 and Interstate 40 near the California-Arizona border, according to CNN.
The billboards are reportedly expected to remain up until Election Day, costing somewhere between $30,000 and $120,000.
The station’s owner, Joseph Jones, told CNN that he used the PPP funds for payroll, not to purchase the billboards, and that the total cost was far less than $120,000.
“I simply wanted to support my president, that’s all there is to it,” he told CNN.
The Hill has reached out to Jones for comment.
A local group known as the Lake Havasu Republicans Facebook group came up with the idea for the billboards, which were then funded by Jones, though the group’s creator, Gianna Kraft, told CNN she was not familiar with the cost of the billboards or how Jones funded them.
PPP, created by legislation President Trump signed in March, was designed to extend a financial lifeline to businesses with fewer than 500 employees that were hard hit by the pandemic. The federal government will forgive loans to eligible small businesses and nonprofits if they use the funds for payroll and other key expenses.
The program has been plagued by implementation and oversight problems, with recipients of the funds including fraudulent businesses, several large corporations and businesses linked to members of Congress and Trump donors.
The program expired Aug. 8 after 5.16 million loans were issued for a total of $523.4 billion. Plans to extend the program further lost steam after negotiations on the next comprehensive coronavirus relief package collapsed this month, though talks were renewed Thursday.
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