When Congress passed the CARES Act back in March, it granted $669 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a loan intended to help small businesses maintain their payroll. The loan is special in that it’s fully forgiven if at least 60% of it is used on payroll costs, as it was designed specifically to prevent layoffs during a time of historic unemployment. MarketWatch reported this week, however, that over 500,000 businesses received the PPP yet retained zero jobs — leaving questions about how the government will make sure that the funds are being used properly.
On Monday, the Small Business Administration — which implements the PPP — released data on who exactly had received a helping hand. And some recipients in particular raised eyebrows, given their apparent celebrity wealth or powerful political connections. Ahead, we’ve compiled a list of some recognizable names that have received COVID-19 relief from the government.
Among the biggest PPP-related headlines this week is the news that Yeezy, the fashion line of nascent presidential candidate Kanye West, had received millions in PPP loans. Kanye became a billionaire earlier this year and recently secured a ten-year collaboration with Gap.
Pearl Jam and other rockers
Classic rock band Pearl Jam also received a loan of somewhere between $350,000 to $1 million in order to help pay its touring company employees. Other famous musicians to receive the PPP are The Eagles, Guns N’ Roses, Imagine Dragons, Tool, Nickelback, and My Chemical Romance, according to Rolling Stone.
Reportedly one of the richest artists alive, Jeff Koons received $1 to $2 million in PPP loans. Last year, one of his works was sold for $91 million to Robert E. Mnuchin — yes, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s father.
Soho House is a ritzy private members club with locations around the world and a valuation of $2 billion. An annual membership in the U.S. is over $2,000, unless you’re under 30, and then it’s slightly less than that. The data released by the Small Business Administration shows that Soho House chapters have received up to $22 million in loans.
Major restaurant chains
The restaurant industry has undoubtedly been hit hard by the pandemic — but much of the worry has been for restaurants that aren’t major chains with locations all around the country. After all, the PPP is intended to help small businesses. But famous chains like TGI Fridays and P.F. Chang’s have also received loans to help them get by during this difficult time.
The Church of Scientology and other religious institutions
The Daily Beast reports that three branches of the controversial and ultra-rich Church of Scientology received PPP loans. But it was far from the only religious organization to receive government aid. According to Newsweek, “nearly 10,000 Catholic churches to hundreds of Jewish groups, received 88,411 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans since the program began April 3.” The Diocese of San Bernardino received between $5 to $10 million in loans. The diocese is currently facing legal proceedings on allegations of sexual abuse by one of its priests, and a report released last year named over 80 clergy members who have been accused of sexual abuse.
Ayn Rand Institute
The institute founded on the ideas of Objectivist thinker Ayn Rand, who believed government handouts were immoral and who influenced Libertarianism in the U.S., received a check from the government — as well as a lot of mocking and backlash for accepting it. Tal Tsfany, president and CEO of the Ayn Rand Institute, responded in a YouTube video that “all of us are forced to support the welfare state whether we agree with it or not. If the government offers to return some of the money taken from us by force, each of us is entitled to reclaim some of what was taken.”
Family of Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation and Mitch McConnell’s wife
A business run by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao’s family — specifically her father and sister — has received between $350,000 to $1 million, saving 38 jobs according to the company. Elaine Chao has been married to current Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, since 1993. McConnell and the Senate have so far opposed proposals including a second direct stimulus payment to Americans, though on Monday he said a second stimulus check was now possible.
Paul Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi’s husband
A company that Paul Pelosi, husband of the Speaker of the House, is an investor in also received PPP money between $350,000 to $1 million. According to USA Today, he’s a “minor, passive investor” with an 8.1% stake in the company and didn’t realize it had applied for a PPP loan.
Various people connected to President Trump
People are wondering whether favoritism played a factor in some businesses receiving the PPP loan. Several businesses that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have been connected to got some federal relief aid, including Observer, a media company that Kushner was once in charge of. Now his brother-in-law runs it. A lettuce farm backed by Don Jr. has reportedly also received some PPP money too.
Since the PPP first launched, big public companies revealed to be taking a PPP loan have faced criticism. Notably, it led food chains like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House to announce that they would return the loan. They were able to receive it because, while being a small business technically means you employ fewer than 500 employees, a loophole allowed franchises in the food and accommodations industries to receive the loan if they had fewer than 500 employees per location. Media company Axios also announced that it was returning its PPP loan in late April. NBCNews has a running list of companies that are returning their loans.
The scrutiny over which well-known people, companies, and organizations have received federal COVID-19 aid is coming at a moment when economic inequality is at the forefront of the national conversation. While it’s true that not every company with ties to a rich, well-connected person is thriving financially, the PPP data shows how relatively easy it is for bigger companies to receive a loan that, in spirit, was created to help independently owned small businesses without deep-pocketed investors or VC firms backing them. There have also been reports that businesses tied to politicians who voted against publicly disclosing PPP data received some loans.
Still, the PPP isn’t finished yet — there’s still around $130 billion left to be distributed. While the original deadline for PPP applications was June 30th, the deadline has been extended to August 8th.
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