U.S. lawmakers, Bank of America press small business agency to fix PPP lending data
Bank of America Inc, the second-largest U.S. lender, has asked the Trump administration to correct data meant to offer public accountability on the recipients of $520 billion in pandemic aid designed to preserve jobs, and a group of U.S. Democratic lawmakers has written to demand action before more funds are distributed.
By Michelle Price, Chris Prentice and Koh Gui Qing
WASHINGTON, July 28 (Reuters) - Bank of America Inc BAC.N, the second-largest U.S. lender, has asked the Trump administration to correct data meant to offer public accountability on the recipients of $520 billion in pandemic aid designed to preserve jobs, and a group of U.S. Democratic lawmakers has written to demand action before more funds are distributed. The 30 lawmakers outlined a series of "grave concerns" about errors in the data for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in a letter on Monday to the Small Business Administration, asking that the agency "rectify these issues promptly," according to a copy of the letter viewed by Reuters.
Bank of America, which processed 334,761 PPP loans as of June 30, which the SBA said made it the largest PPP lender by volume, has asked the SBA to pull the data, clean it up and re-issue it, according to the person with direct knowledge of the discussions. A spokesman for the bank declined to comment.
The requests, not previously reported, will likely increase pressure on the SBA and the Treasury to explain how they put together lending data on the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to help businesses keep workers on their payrolls by issuing forgivable loans.
President Donald Trump's re-election campaign has pointed to the data as showing that his administration protected 51 million American jobs after COVID-19 ruptured the economy.
Released on July 6 after some initial resistance by the Trump administration, the data was meant to let American taxpayers see exactly who got cash -- boosting transparency and allowing policymakers to assess the program's success.
"We have found much of the released data to be grossly incorrect," the lawmakers, who included the chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Small Business, wrote in a letter sent to SBA administrator Jovita Carranza on Monday.
"Data covering the number of jobs retained per loan and the borrower’s congressional district has proved to be largely erroneous, casting shadows on the veracity, quality, and reliability of other loan data," they wrote.
The lawmakers asked the SBA to address a series of items -- including how it arrived at the "jobs retained" figure and whether the SBA made efforts to independently verify data.
Democratic Representative Jason Crow, a member of the committee who led the drafting of the letter, told Reuters in an interview that he was also seeking a meeting with SBA staff to discuss their process and timeframe for cleaning up the data.
“Time is of the essence,” he added, noting that Congress was aiming to authorize a new tranche of PPP funds in coming weeks.
A spokesman for the SBA did not immediately provide comment on Tuesday, but Carranza said during a hearing this month that she was willing to address errors.
Reuters and other news outlets have reported numerous red flags throughout the massive data set that suggest the number of jobs salvaged by PPP aid has been overstated.
Errors identified by Reuters included loans which lenders and borrowers say were neither sought nor approved; loans which were canceled prior to July; and dramatically inflated loan amounts.
(Reporting by Michelle Price, Chris Prentice and Koh Gui Qing; Additional reporting by Lawrence Delevingne and Pete Schroeder; Editing by Tom Lasseter and Leslie Adler)
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