Rubio warns he will subpoena companies as part of coronavirus aid oversight

Bonnie Cash

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on Monday that he is willing to subpoena companies as the panel he chairs prepares to conduct oversight of a small-business aid program created by last month’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus package. 

“This fall, the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship will conduct aggressive oversight into the use of the PPP. If companies are not forthcoming, the Committee will use its subpoena power to compel cooperation,” said Rubio, referring to the Paycheck Protection Program. 

The subpoena threat comes amid signs of mounting frustration over reports that nationwide chains and companies received funding through the PPP, which was created by Congress to provide loans and grants to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. 

“Any business, regardless of size, must certify it has been harmed by the coronavirus crisis and that PPP is necessary to maintain operations,” Rubio said, pointing to the program’s “borrower requirements” that specify that a business should make a “good faith certification” that “the uncertainty of current economic conditions” makes the loan necessary to support ongoing operations.

But the Florida Republican acknowledged in his statement that there were “multiple reports of companies abusing the program.”

“Now is not the time for our nation’s companies to profit at others’ expense. We are all in this together,” he added. 

Congress initially provided $349 billion for the PPP. But the Small Business Administration announced last week that it had run through the initial tranche of money amid a high number of applications as the coronavirus has caused countless businesses to scale back or close altogether. 

Democrats and some Republicans have raised concerns that larger corporations received an advantage during the preliminary round of funding. And in the initial confusion amid the rollout of the program, some banks provided loans only to existing customers, throwing financial help for other businesses into limbo. 

Fellow Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott said earlier Monday that “millions of dollars are being wasted.”

“I am concerned that many businesses with thousands of employees have found loopholes to qualify for these loans meant for small businesses. … Right now, companies that are not being harmed at all by the Coronavirus crisis have the ability to receive taxpayer-funded loans that can be forgiven,” Scott said. 

Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which has 150 locations and $468 million in revenue, received $20 million in PPP loans. The sandwich chain Potbelly, which has more than 400 locations, and Shake Shack, with more than 200 branches, each received $10 million from the fund.

At least 17 companies with more than 500 employees — the cap for PPP eligibility — have received a total of $143 million in relief loans, according to data compiled by the progressive group Accountable.US and public filings reviewed by The Hill. 

Shake Shack has said it will forgo the loan. 

Rubio said earlier Monday that some people have been approved for the small-business loans “that I believe should not have been, even under the intent of the law.”

“There were glitches made, there’s no doubt about it. In the end, take comfort in the fact the money has to go to the workers. … The goal here is to get the money into hands of businesses that don’t have anywhere else to go for money, including, you know, the stock market, shareholders,” he told CNBC. 

“We thought about putting a needs test on the front end,” Rubio added but noted that they “sort of erred on the side of expediency.”

Congressional leadership and the Trump administration are currently negotiating on an “interim” coronavirus package that is expected to include an additional $250 billion for the PPP, with an extra $50 billion to $60 billion specifically for smaller lenders. 

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus stimulus Marco Rubio Paycheck Protection Program Potbelly ppp Ruth's Chris Steak House Shake Shack

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