By ACACIA CORONADO and PAUL WEBER Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who launched his political career on conservative talk radio, received a government small business loan for his Houston broadcasting company as the coronavirus pandemic shut down the economy, according to federal data released Monday.
Patrick Broadcasting received a loan of $179,000 from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, according to Patrick spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester. She said the money was sought due to a decline in advertising sales and was to cover the payroll and expenses of 13 employees.
“The loan did not cover his salary, but he was able to save the jobs of all his employees, many of whom have been with him for decades,” Sylvester said.
The Paycheck Protection Program is the centerpiece of the federal government’s plan to rescue an economy devastated by shutdowns and uncertainty. The program, which helps smaller businesses stay open and keep Americans employed during the pandemic, has been both popular and controversial.
Patrick is chairman of President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign in Texas. He drew national attention in March for saying that people over the age of 70, who the Centers for Disease Control says are at higher risk for severe illness from the coronavirus, will “take care of ourselves” as he called for a swift reopening of the economy.
Last week, Patrick criticized Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, saying he “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Patrick is a former television sportscaster who later became a conservative talk radio host. His audience helped elected him to the state Senate in 2006 and lieutenant governor in 2014. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who does not own any companies, did not receive any loans, Abbott spokesman John Wittman said.
Under the PPP, the government is backing $659 billion in low-interest loans written by banks. Taxpayer money will pay off the loans if borrowers use them on payroll, rent and similar expenses. Companies typically must have fewer than 500 workers to qualify.
Demand was so great that a first infusion of $349 billion ran out in just two weeks. Many Main Street businesses couldn’t navigate the application process rapidly enough to get one of those first loans before funding dried up. Meanwhile, several hundred companies traded on stock exchanges received loans maxing out at $10 million each, causing a public backlash and leading dozens to return the money.
Congress added $310 billion to the program, but confusing, shifting and sometimes restrictive rules cooled interest. About $140 billion was unclaimed as the application deadline closed June 30. With money still available, Congress voted to extend the program just as it was expiring, setting a new date of Aug. 8.
The public may never know the identity of more than 80% of the nearly 5 million beneficiaries to date because the administration has refused to release details on loans under $150,000 — the vast majority of borrowers. That secrecy spurred an open-records lawsuit by a group of news organizations, including The Associated Press.
Still, the release of the data is the most complete look at the program’s recipients so far.
Acacia Coronado is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.