Little of the Paycheck Protection Program’s $800 Billion Protected Paychecks

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    Most notably, they gutted the requirement that borrowers who wanted their loans forgiven maintain their prepandemic head counts. And they reduced the percentage of the loan that borrowers seeking forgiveness had to spend on payroll, to 60 percent from 75 percent.

    That allowed business owners to spend more of the money on rent, utilities and other expenses. (Some of those payments, in turn, propped up other industries: An analysis last year found that Paycheck Protection Program money reduced commercial mortgage delinquencies.)

    Out of the roughly $510 billion the program lent in 2020, a maximum of $175 billion — about 34 percent — went to paying workers who would have lost their jobs, Dr. Autor’s team found. Money that didn’t specifically preserve jobs was effectively a windfall for business owners — on the whole a wealthy group.

    “This program was highly, highly regressive,” Dr. Autor said, using the economic term for policies that favor the richest.

    Lawmakers in both parties have backed the Paycheck Protection Program — it was created during the Trump administration and distributed an additional round of funding after President Biden took office — in part because every congressional district is filled with entrepreneurs like Ms. Kelly.

    Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, speaks glowingly of Island Grove Wine, a winery and wedding site that the pandemic turned into “a money pit,” in the words of its owner. Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, a Democrat, praised the program for giving local mainstays like the Aurora Theater, an arts venue, “the resources they need to get back on their feet.”

    And Representative Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican, brought Dr. Rich Coleman, owner of Four Paws Animal Hospital, to a House hearing. Dr. Coleman testified that the program had allowed his 34 employees “to go home every night knowing that they could pay their rent, feed their family and, more importantly, feed the massive amounts of pets that they own.”

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