The response of the federal government and of our local institutions to the greatest health and economic crisis of our lives has revealed many fascinating stories. One is the government’s CARES Act and the $659 billion allocated to rescue small businesses.
As Paul Benson has reported here, our local banks worked frantically to secure funds for their customers. We now know that giant banks ignored small customers to grab billions of those dollars for the already super-rich, and that there is no accountability or transparency in the CARES Act. We may never know who got a lot of that cash.
This is public money, and we think where it goes should be public information. The Independent got some of it. We submitted our application for an SBA Payroll Protection Program loan to Seamen’s Bank on April 10. Within an hour, the bank was asking for more documents, and they pointed out a mistake in our calculation of the loan amount. I reworked the numbers, coming up with a new loan amount of $56,600 (representing 2.5 times our average monthly payroll), and got the corrected application in at midnight on April 11.
At 8 a.m. on April 12, Easter Sunday, Seamen’s President Lori Meads emailed to let me know everything looked good. Our loan was approved by the SBA on April 15, the day before the first batch of funding ran out.
This will buy us a little time while we figure out how to carry on. The same is true for other local businesses and nonprofit institutions that have community banks behind them.
Millions of others are not as lucky, and the news out of Washington is not good, as the Senate and the Federal Reserve avoid any meaningful oversight of the trillions of dollars being sucked into the black hole created in the name of “relief.” There are a lot of unanswered questions about how much is going to buy up debt incurred by private equity billionaires, including the ones who are largely responsible for destroying the newspaper industry.
This culture of secrecy and disdain for oversight can also be seen on the small stage of local government. Our reporters this week struggled mightily to get straight answers to simple questions from people who didn’t want (or had been forbidden) to talk to them. OK, we’re not talking trillions here. We’re talking about beach stickers, and consultants’ contracts, and whether or not a baby was born in town, for heaven’s sake.
These are not life-or-death issues. It’s not the same as ordering the Centers for Disease Control not to speak to the press — which actually happened. But it’s the same impulse, and it’s not good.