You can't run a country like you run a business when voters want proof their tax dollars are ethically spent.
The Paycheck Protection Program is part of nearly $3 trillion for wage grants and loans. In March, Congress authorized $376 billion in CARES relief for American workers and small businesses in response to the economic disruption of COVID-19. Two weeks later, lenders had approved more than 1,661,000 loans, totaling nearly $342.3 billion. Another $310 billion more was added, and by May 6, about 2,441,369 loans had been approved, totaling another $183.5 billion, part of which was earmarked for smaller lenders.
Some people want to see the books. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is refusing to disclose to the General Accounting Office data on borrowers as "confidential and proprietary" for over $500 billion in PPP bailout money he claims was delivered to 4.5 million businesses. Recall back in May, when Trump removed the inspector general responsible for overseeing the $2 trillion in coronavirus relief funds? Mnuchin is stonewalling the Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee's accountability questions.
As if that isn't enough, 11 news agencies have sued Trump's Treasury to force disclosure of the loans. Always in the past, these SBA loans were public records. The lawsuit was filed when SBA cubbyholed journalists' Freedom of Information Act requests. With about $540 billion of $660 billion loaned but unaccounted for, Congress isn't eager to appropriate more money, although some senators are wanting SBA to streamline low-dollar loan applications for very small businesses. Before voters even know who got the money, private sector loan specialists are already seeking loan forgiveness for businesses, according to Lendio, a company that has processed over 100,000 loans for over 300 financial institutions.
CARES also includes pandemic assistance for independent contractors who are ineligible for benefits under state law if they are unemployed, partially unemployed, or cannot work due to the pandemic. Theoretically, this should be a big help for gig workers. But in Oklahoma, even the improved Oklahoma Employment Security Commission website cannot be used for gig workers with multiple revenue streams. Some claims first filed in March still remain unprocessed by the OESC. Nationwide, as of June 4, about 40 million jobless claims were filed. That is about 25 percent of the U.S. labor force. The Treasury Department says unemployment programs nationwide delivered $48 billion in payments in April alone.
The state of Oklahoma was booked to receive over $1 billion for COVID-19 Relief. Oklahoma laws require a state accounting of those expenditures. Even so, Oklahoma may have underbudgeted because virus cases grew well beyond the state's forecast COVID-19 peak date of March 29, when it was predicted to top out at 915 active infections. Cases are at seven times the number initially expected, over 8,645,16, and deaths exceed 360.
As of June 1, Oklahoma's unemployment rate was up 2,500 percent from a year ago. In April, Oklahoma processed the most claims in the nation, maybe through automatic denial of standard UE. For gig workers who have been waiting since March, OESC's delays seem to be due to lack of capacity. A customized questionnaire and 14 phone techs can't process 604,772 unemployment claims in real time. That is 29 percent of the work force.
The governor is being meticulous about unemployment fraud. Meanwhile, gig workers have struggled without funds that would help against permanent business closures.
Yet in Washington, corporate loans for billions of dollars will only be paid back in part. Ukrainegate taught voters that the Executive Branch will wield power and control money for personal gain. Fiscal conservatives and constitutionalists may pin their hopes on Congress, on the courts and on GAO.
Kathy Tibbits is a Cherokee citizen, attorney, and artist living at Lake Tenkiller.