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Since its launch nearly two months ago, the government's rescue effort for small businesses has been peppered with complaints over terms of the loan programs and the piecemeal way the programs have been implemented.
In Congress, lawmakers have yet another beef — they can't get answers from the Small Business Administration, which is leading the effort.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has sent eight letters to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza since March, and hasn't received one response, aides say. In a statement, Mr. Schumer faulted the SBA for what he called its "lack of transparency and unresponsiveness."
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It isn't unusual for Mr. Schumer to criticize agencies run by appointees of Republican President Trump, but frustration with the SBA's handling of its small business rescue programs extends to small business advocates — and across the aisle.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) told reporters recently that he has sought to get top SBA officials to appear before the Senate Small Business Committee that he chairs. "At some point we need to have a hearing, and we've been trying to get the right people," Mr. Rubio said. "We're going to be patient, but not forever."
An SBA spokesperson said Ms. Carranza, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have participated in conference calls with congressional small business panels, and that "agencies on the frontline of pandemic economic response have been focused on those efforts throughout May."
Both critics and defenders of the SBA acknowledge that the relatively small bureaucracy, with about 4,000 staffers, has been faced with a monumental challenge in trying to keep small businesses and their employees afloat amid business closures forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
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"Certainly there have been challenges, and not everything has been smooth sailing," said Rep. Steve Chabot (R., Ohio), ranking member on the House Small Business Committee. "This is probably the greatest economic disaster in American history, so they've had to deal in record time with something unprecedented."
At the same time, Ms. Carranza has been largely out of sight amid the crisis, using Twitter to give updates on the agency's efforts. She declined an interview through a spokesperson.
SBA officials say the $670 billion Paycheck Protection Program has been a success and that the small agency has punched above its weight. But a recent inspector general report dinged the SBA for veering from congressional mandates, and small businesses and their advocates have complained about on-the-fly rule changes.
In addition to the PPP, the SBA oversees an Economic Injury Disaster Loan program that has also been subject to complaints.
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Information about the disaster loans "kind of sits there in a black hole, " said Charles "Tee" Rowe, chief executive of America's Small Business Development Centers, a trade group.
The SBA says it had approved 252,340 disaster loans worth nearly $25 billion as of May 17. But there is a large backlog — it had 5.4 million disaster loan applications by the end of last month, more than 50 times what it gets in a typical year, according to agency planning documents.