The inequities of P3s: mega-churches, big companies get money before small companies

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As the government prepares to issue a new round of business loans under its latest COVID-19 relief bill, struggling small businesses like ice cream shop Thereasa Black are hoping for more than a miracle.

Black opened the ice cream shop in Arlington, Va., In December 2019 – shortly after returning home from a 13-month deployment to the Navy Reserves. His business is more than that, however; he also fulfills a promise she made to her 4-year-old daughter, Isabella.

“It means everything to me, honestly,” Black said. “This company is literally my promise that I will never leave it again.”

“I saw it all fall apart, and then it was a ‘what now?’ Question,” she said.

Black said she applied for grants and applied for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program in April, which aims to help small business owners like her stay afloat. After a careful application process, Black said she was approved for just $ 2,000. She said it wasn’t even enough to cover a month’s rent.

“I was furious,” Black said. In the end, Black said she was refused the PPP loan because she requested it from multiple lenders even though she was advised to do so.

“It was crazy to me that I read like, this company got $ 2 million… and it’s just like, is this a joke?”

Restaurant chains like Shake Shack, Ruth’s and Chris Steak House came under fire last year after receiving $ 10 million or more in PPP loans. They have since returned the money.

According to data released by the Small Business Administration (SBA), which manages the program, billions of dollars from the first round of loans under the Paycheck Protection Program went to wealthy and well-connected businesses that were more likely to be owned by whites, according to data released by the Small Business Administration (SBA), which manages the program, as reported by ABC News.

Meanwhile, thousands of small minority-owned businesses waited longer and received less money, or no money at all, the Associated Press reported.

“It was really meant to be a lifeline for small businesses,” said Ashley Harrington, federal advocacy director for the Center for Responsible Lending. “However, from the start there were structural flaws with this program, structural barriers.”

The SBA has also extended PPP loans to nonprofit groups, which would not normally qualify through the agency. In all, the federal government has given more than $ 7 billion in loans to religious organizations.

While some argue that granting loans under the program was appropriate because churches are employers and service providers, University of Virginia law professor Micah Schwartzman says it’s not that simple. .

“What makes our PPP different [from] Past funding programs is the direct funding of religious operations and religious institutions, ”said Schwartzman. “It’s changing the landscape of how the federal government [and] state governments report to religious organizations.

“The public perception is that some organizations that have the financial means should not have taken the money, even if they were eligible,” he added.

Mega-churches, where pastors are sometimes worth millions of dollars, were also able to qualify for the PPP. SBA data showed churches led by evangelical television stars received between $ 250,000 and $ 5 million in loans.

Multi-millionaire Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church received $ 4.4 million in PPP loans, while Robert Jeffress’s First Baptist Dallas received $ 2.2 million and Joyce Meyers Ministries received $ 5 million.

Lakewood Church and Joyce Meyers Ministries told ABC News that the loan money had been used to save hundreds of jobs and the pastors had not received any of the money themselves. First Baptist did not return a request for comment from ABC News.

Schwartzman pointed out that there was “no serious political or public opposition” to religious organizations eligible for PPP loans like other nonprofits.

“I think most people understand that these are special circumstances during the pandemic, so there hasn’t been a public outcry about it,” he said.

He said the “objection” to mega-churches receiving the loans is similar to that of the big corporations receiving the loans. “They didn’t need this money, which was really going to the small businesses that were suffering,” he said.

With the PPP program now reopened and more people taking a critical look at its loans, the SBA did not respond to specific questions from ABC News.

In a press release, the agency said it “called on its lending partners to redouble their efforts to help eligible borrowers in underserved and disadvantaged communities.”

It also earmarked funds specifically for companies with 10 or fewer employees, according to the press release.

Now Black is one of many other business owners lining up to apply for loans and demand P3 changes in order to save their businesses.

“I mean, the reality is we can’t write the rules,” she said. “But we can try to demand something better.”

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