Business placeholder

If you want to download the Small Business Administration’s data on 4.9 million coronavirus relief recipients, get ready for a computer crash. There’s that much data.

This spring, the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program provided $520 billion in forgivable loans so small businesses could continue paying employees as the coronavirus became a cement block around the economy’s neck. Politicians of all stripes demanded more transparency, so details on larger loan recipients were released earlier this month.

It’s still transparency even if it’s granted grudgingly.

The SBA released the names of PPP recipients that received between $150,000 to $10 million in funds, which accounted for about 75% of the companies that took benefits. Companies that received smaller amounts were not identified.

Nationally, it makes for interesting reading. Recipients of coronavirus relief funding include a foundation linked to anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, Ruth’s Chris steakhouse, the Church of Scientology and friends and family of Jared Kushner, Nancy Pelosi and Kanye West.

Closer to home, the big news isn’t powerful connections but the sheer volume of federal money that poured into St. Joseph in a short period of time.

SBA data shows that $48 million to $118 million in federal funding supported 138 St. Joseph companies, from manufacturers, contractors and machine shops to nonprofits and professional services firms. These companies, firms and organizations employed at least 6,000 people, by conservative estimates.

Those were just the largest recipients. In total, 800 St. Joseph businesses may have received funding. That’s not counting those that indirectly capitalized on government stimulus efforts through enhanced unemployment benefits for furloughed employees, all because of the coronavirus.

This suggests an unprecedented level of federal support for the economy. Even the Ayn Rand Institute in California took a check, although its leadership had something deep and philosophical to say about it.

In the coming months, there will be a time to ask hard questions about oversight of the PPP, how this money was spent and whether some of these well-connected recipients took advantage of the system. After all, the PPP was a rush job involving a fire hose of money.

It will be equally important to look at what happens next. The vast sums of the PPP tended to obscure that reality that this program was short-lived, an eight-week bridge to get businesses to the other side of troubled waters.

They’re there now, but what happens next? On a local level, the list of recipients points not to political influence or scandal but to survival in unprecedented times. The need to survive doesn’t go away.