The Historic Success of the Paycheck Protection Program

By Marco Rubio

1. The Paycheck Protection Program delivered the largest amount of support to the U.S. economy at the time when it was most needed.

The Paycheck Protection Program injected over $525 billion into the U.S. economy in less than four months, making it the largest and most rapidly implemented fiscal policy support enacted by the CARES Act.

Figure 1. Comparison of Funds Spent by CARES Act Economic Relief Programs (billions of dollars).[1]

When PPP first began on April 3, 2020, the U.S. economy was in free-fall: unemployment claims were at their highest level in modern history,[2] and nearly half of all small businesses reported they would shut down permanently in less than six months.[3] Before stimulus checks or expanded unemployment benefits were fully available, eligible small and medium-sized businesses were approved for and began to receive nearly $350 billion in PPP loans.

In May 2020, before any major U.S. state began to re-open, economists predicted the economy would continue to shed labor in massive amounts, projecting the loss of at least another 8 million jobs, which would result in an unemployment rate higher than at any time since the Great Depression. While businesses began to spend their PPP loans, at least $150 billion in PPP loans were disbursed in May. Instead of seeing the expected loss of over 8 million jobs, in May the U.S. economy gained 2.5 million jobs, the largest single month increase since 1939.[4]

Figure 2. PPP Total Amounts Approved, Imputed Total PPP Amounts Spent by Businesses (billions of dollars), and U.S. Employment Change by Day (percent change from April 7, 2020).[5]

2. The Paycheck Protection Program saved tens of millions of jobs.

Businesses receiving PPP loans report retaining over 55 million jobs.[6] It is no doubt that the passage of time will allow economists to properly analyze just how many of those jobs retained were because of PPP, but the presumption should clearly be for this order of magnitude.

A program the size of PPP requires study in macroeconomic terms. The macroeconomic trends surrounding it are clear: employment was falling, and then, after PPP started, employment starting growing again.

What else could have caused that employment growth? Stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits weren’t fully available yet. Moreover, small businesses were closed. To attribute the turnaround to consumers spending their stimulus checks or unemployment benefits would be to say that employment shifted rapidly toward businesses that could stay open — that is, larger businesses and those permitting work-from-home. Surely some reallocation occurred, but, as a cause of halting a historic decline in employment, is that a more plausible cause than $350 billion given to millions of small businesses to help them stay open?

As Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former Director of the Congressional Budget Office and President of the American Action Forum, puts it, “The PPP was the single largest source of support for the economy for the month of April . . . It is painful to imagine how much worse this may have been without [it].” [7]

Figure 3. Predicted vs. Actual Employment (in millions) February 20 through May 20, 2020, Event at April 3, 2020.[8]

3. The Paycheck Protection Program saved millions of small businesses and helped them re-open against overly restrictive lockdown orders.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 75 percent of all small businesses in the entire country received a PPP loan.[9] Rarely in our history has a federal program ever reached such a broad cross-section of the U.S. economy.

PPP was critical for small businesses because though the lockdowns caused economic pain generally, they especially hurt small businesses, who rely most on the sale of in-person goods and services.

PPP was a critical lifeline to small businesses, not only because it helped them cover their rent and interest payments, but because it helped them re-open against overly restrictive lockdown orders. Throughout the pandemic, capacity restrictions have limited small businesses’ ability to make a profit, even when they’re open. By covering what is many businesses’ largest cost of operating — payroll costs — PPP made any revenues received by those businesses more profitable during its coverage. This made it financially possible for millions of small businesses to physically re-open and survive despite crushing capacity restrictions.

4. The Paycheck Protection Program helped the smallest, most needy businesses.

Over 3.5 million PPP loans went to businesses with fewer than 10 employees, and the average business receiving a PPP loan employed 13 workers. It truly focused on small businesses. A misinformation campaign by left-wing activist groups and the media, however, falsely claims the opposite. For example, a recent article in The Washington Post claimed that “more than half” of PPP funds “went to larger businesses.”[10] By this, the piece’s authors say, they mean that more than half of all loan value went to the “top 5 percent” of business employee sizes. That is wildly misleading. Precisely because so many PPP loans went to the smallest businesses, the employee size cutoff to be in the “top 5 percent” was only 40 employees. How many “larger businesses” have fewer than 50 employees?

The truth is that PPP was equitably distributed to eligible businesses of all sizes. Yes, some larger restaurant and hotel chains were made eligible to receive PPP loans, but that’s because they have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. They employ plenty of workers, too.

And despite the eligibility of these chains, the smallest businesses received the largest number of loans and the largest amount of funds.

Figure 4. Distribution of PPP Funds by Employee Size of Borrower (billions of dollars).[11]

5. The Paycheck Protection Program was one of the most significant financial supports for minority-owned businesses ever created.

Recognizing the challenges that remain due to past discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities, the U.S. government has for years funded programs, often at insufficient levels,[1] like the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) Fund, SBA Microloan, and SBA 7(a) Community Advantage programs, that are designed to promote access to capital for under-served communities. PPP leveraged these existing tools to expand their reach to an historic level. The capital lent by CDFIs and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) through PPP was more than the total amount of capital guaranteed by the government during the last decade through these programs combined.

Figure 5. Sum of government guaranteed lending through CDFI financing, SBA Microloan, and SBA 7(a) Community Advantage programs 2010–2019 vs. through PPP in 2020.[13]

The heroic work by CDFIs and other community and mission-based lenders appears to have paid off. To help measure these equity considerations, the SBA collected voluntary demographic information about recipients of PPP from loan applications. Though the response rate was lower than we would like, this survey provides the most solid information provided to date about the distribution of PPP loans.[14] The fact is that the best data available indicate that minority-owned businesses received PPP loans at a higher rate than their share of business ownership in the economy would have otherwise indicated.

Table 1. Disbursed Paycheck Protection Program Loan Characteristics by Race.[15]

6. The Paycheck Protection Program suffers a lower fraud rate than in other CARES Act programs and private mortgage lending.

I know plenty of small business owners in South Florida who either don’t speak English, don’t have a professional accountant to keep their books, or who have never received a loan from a bank before. In this crisis, our goal was to do whatever it took to make sure that businesses like these could receive the assistance they so desperately needed. PPP cleared many of the procedural hurdles that would normally prevent many of the smallest businesses from accessing capital. Unfortunately, those changes also increased the risk of fraud.

But that is another reason why, in PPP, it was important that the funds be processed through lenders like banks and credit unions. Banks, credit unions, and also fintechs that participated in PPP had to abide by existing federal Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations. Compliance with these regulations would reduce fraud risk.

Though only time will tell, so far it appears that choice has been validated. As demonstrated by Figure 5, which uses the PPP fraud rate estimated by the House Democrat Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis,[16] PPP suffers from a lower fraud rate than other CARES Act programs, including a much lower rate than the other SBA program funded by the CARES Act, the direct government lending Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.

Figure 6. Estimated Fraud Risk by Program and Private Lending Sector as a Percent of Total Funds.[17]

[1] Amounts are recorded as of November 2020. For unemployment compensation and refundable tax credits, the amounts reflect total outlays, not just the increases in program spending enacted by the CARES Act. For the purpose of comparing the economic relief contributed by a singular program, Committee staff believe it appropriate that comparison programs be measured on their program wholes. See Congressional Budget Office, Monthly Budget Review: Summary for Fiscal Year 2020 5 (Nov. 9, 2020) https://www.cbo.gov/publication/56746. Because Figure 1 measures funds spent, the total for the Federal Reserve 13(3) Facilities includes the $195 billion that was approved by the Secretary of the Treasury pursuant to the CARES Act for those facilities. This amount arguably best represents the amount spent under this authority, insofar as it helped to stabilize the relevant financial markets, even though only $25 billion in capital was actually committed. See Letter from Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin on the Status of Facilities Authorized Under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act 1 (Nov. 19, 2020) https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/letter11192020.pdf.

[2] Press Release, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims 1 (Apr. 2, 2020) (stating that the prior week’s unemployment claim “marks the highest level of seasonally adjusted claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series.”).

[3] MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Special Report on Coronavirus and Small Business 2 (Apr. 3, 2020).

[4] Jeff Cox, May sees biggest jobs increase ever of 2.5 million as economy starts to recover from coronavirus, CNBC (June 5, 2020) https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/05/jobs-report-may-2020.html.

[5] Compiled by Committee staff from the SBA PPP Loan Dataset. PPP Loans Approved is derived from the approval of PPP loans in the Dataset marked as disbursed and for which dates are available, applied as a rate to the entire population of PPP loans marked as disbursed. PPP Funds Spent: the estimated expenditure of funds by borrowers; Committee staff imputed these amounts by spreading the funds of a given loan out 8 weeks (56 days), which is equal to the forgiveness period of a PPP loan. Percent Change in U.S. Employment: estimated daily change in U.S. employment figures. See Chetty, Friedman, Hendren, Stepner, and the OI Team, Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, Opportunity Insights (Nov. 19, 2020) https://tracktherecovery.org/.

[6] See infra note 8, SBA PPP Loan Dataset.

[7] Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship Hearing, Small Business in Crisis: The 2020 Paycheck Protection Program and Its Future, December 10, 2020 (emphasis in original).

[8] Compiled by Committee staff from the SBA PPP Loan Dataset. Actual Employment: estimated percent change employment matched with total U.S. employment numbers. See Chetty, Friedman, Hendren, Stepner, and the OI Team, Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, Opportunity Insights (Nov. 19, 2020) https://tracktherecovery.org/ (stating the estimated daily percent change in employment); Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Situation (February 7, 2020) https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_02072020.htm (stating total seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment of 152.1 million in January 2020). The log-regressed employment trendline was created by constructing a logarithmic regression from the beginning of the employment decline (March 2, 2020) to the beginning of the reported recovery (March 31, 2020). Using these coefficients, Committee staff adjusted the intercept to equal the realized employment on April 1, 2020 and then projected out the remaining days from the derived equation.

[9] U.S. Census Bureau, Small Business Pulse Survey (Nov. 22, 2020) https://portal.census.gov/pulse/data/.

[10] Jonathan O’Connell et al., More than half of emergency small-business funds went to larger businesses, new data shows, The Washington Post (Dec. 2, 2020) https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/12/01/ppp-sba-data/.

[11] Compiled by Committee staff from the SBA PPP Loan Dataset.

[12] In July 2019, Senate Democrats blocked Chairman Rubio’s SBA Reauthorization bill, which would have increased funding to these programs, among other expansions in access to capital for under-served communities. See Press Release, Office of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Rubio Postpones Markup of Small Business Act Reauthorization (July 24, 2019) https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=6EBCD5DC-8609-4DCD-926E-940468F780B4.

Reauthorization (July 24, 2019) https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=6EBCD5DC-8609-4DCD-926E-940468F780B4.

[13] SBA Microloan Program: $563.5 million. See U.S. Small Business Admin., FY 2021 Congressional Justification; id.; congressional budget justification documents for Fiscal Years 2011–2020. SBA 7(a) Community Advantage Pilot Program: $735.3 million. SBA data on file with Committee staff. For a publicly-available estimate, see U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Inspector General, 20–08, Audit of the SBA’s Community Advantage Pilot Program 5 (March 18, 2020) https://www.oversight.gov/sites/default/files/oig-reports/SBA_OIG_Report_20-08_508.pdf (stating the approval amount from 2011–2018 was $648 million). Paycheck Protection Program loans made by CDFIs and MDIs: $16.4 billion. See U.S. Small Business Administration, Paycheck Protection Program Report: Approvals through 09/08/2020, 4 https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/2020-08/PPP_Report%20-%202020-08-10-508.pdf. Community Development Financial Institutions: $7.69 billion; sum derived from CDFI Bond Guarantee Program, $1.592 billion, see U.S. Dept. of the Treasury Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, Congressional Budget Justification and Annual Performance Plan and Report, FY 2021 16 (stating this sum as the total amount financed “since inception”); CDFI Bank Enterprise Award; $4.65 billion; see id.; congressional budget justification documents for Fiscal Years 2011–2020; CDFI Program Financial Assistance, $1.45 billion, id.

[14] Though only a subset of program borrowers (roughly 500,000) indicated their race on their loan application, this is a much larger quantity of responses from which to measure the racial distribution of PPP loans than other surveys widely cited on the subject.

[15] This estimate limits the population of PPP loans to those made to loan recipients receiving loans identified by the SBA PPP Loan Dataset as “disbursed” who responded to the demographic questionnaire included in loan applications in the relevant part identifying the race of the recipient. The share of business ownership in the United States is derived from data from the U.S. Census Bureau. See U.S. Census Bureau, 2018 Annual Business Survey (ABS) (May 19, 2020) https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/abs/data/tables.html.

[16] U.S. House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Preliminary Analysis of Paycheck Protection Program Data pg. 1–2 (Sept. 1, 2020) https://coronavirus.house.gov/sites/democrats.coronavirus.house.gov/files/2020-09-01.PPP%20Interim%20Report.pdf.

[17] Economic Impact Payments: 0.53 percent. See Gov’t Accountability Office, 20–625, COVID-19: Opportunities to Improve Federal Response and Recovery Efforts (June 25, 2020) www.gao.gov/reports/GAO-20-625/#TOC_Letter_Findings (stating 1.1 million payments went to deceased individuals); Sacha Pfeiffer, Foreign Workers Living Overseas Mistakenly Received $1,200 U.S. Stimulus Checks, National Public Radio (Aug. 5, 2020) https://www.npr.org/2020/08/05/898903600 (citing a tax preparation company’s claim that up to $43 million in EIP could have been paid in error to foreign individuals). The EIP figure uses as a denominator a funds amount of $270 billion. See Internal Revenue Service, Economic Impact Payment Information Center (Dec. 8, 2020) https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payment-information-center. Paycheck Protection Program: 0.76 percent. See U.S. House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Preliminary Analysis of Paycheck Protection Program Data 1–2 (September 1, 2020) https://coronavirus.house.gov/sites/democrats.coronavirus.house.gov/files/2020-09-01.PPP%20Interim%20Report.pdf (stating that a total of just over $4 billion in loans could be fraudulent: $1 billion in duplicate loans, $96 million in firms barred from government business, and $2.98 billion in loans with the wrong information). The PPP figure uses as a denominator a funds amount $525 billion, compiled by Committee staff according to the SBA PPP Loan Dataset. Private Mortgage Market: 0.81 percent. See CoreLogic, 2019 Mortgage Fraud Report 1 (September, 2019) https://www.corelogic.com/downloadable-docs/17-frdrpt19-1910-01-2019-mortgage-fraud-report_scrn_20190909.pdf. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: 1.43 percent. See Ezra Kaplan & Jo Ling Kent, Fraudsters steal millions from unemployment coffers, adding to pain of those still waiting for benefits, NBC News (Sept. 17, 2020) https://www.nbcnews.com/business/economy/fraudsters-steal-millions-dollars-unemployment-coffers-adding-pain-those-still-n1240304 (stating over $1 billion in unemployment aid is being threatened by fraud); Jack Kelly, Allegations of fraud in the pandemic unemployment assistance program: why the system is flawed, Forbes (Sept. 17, 2020) https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2020/09/17/allegations-of-fraud-in-the-pandemic-unemployment-assistance-program-why-the-system-is-flawed/?sh=606069ba4978. The PUA figure uses as a denominator a funds amount of $72.7 billion. See U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Funding to States (December 5, 2020) https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/docs/cares_act_funding_state.html. SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program: 9.33 percent. See U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Inspector General, 21–02, Inspection of Small Business Administration’s Initial Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic 15–16 (October 28, 2020) https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/2020-11/SBA%20OIG%20Report%2021-02.508.1.pdf (stating that $78.1 billion EIDL loans could be fraudulent: $13.4 billion in loans that had different bank accounts listed and $1.1 billion in loans to firms registered after the cutoff date of Jan 31, 2020; Committee staff, for the purposes of a making a strongly conservative estimate for the purposes of comparison, omitted the $62.7 billion in potentially fraudulent loans sharing IP addresses and other information). The EIDL figure uses as a denominator a funds amount of $155.4 billion. See U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Inspector General, 21–02, Inspection of Small Business Administration’s Initial Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic 11 (October 28, 2020) https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/2020-11/SBA%20OIG%20Report%2021-02.508.1.pdf (Stating $155.4 billion in Disbursed Current loans and $6.8 billion in In Liquidation Disbursed loans).

Official Account. Follower of Christ, Husband, Father, U.S. Senator for Florida.