Hold Congress Accountable on COVID-19 Spending

By Lea Márquez Peterson

You and I may have voted for different people in this election, but I bet we’re both hoping for the same outcome—good government led by responsible, trustworthy lawmakers, whatever their politics.

Character counts with voters because we recognize that government can be a breeding ground for fraud, corruption, and abuse of taxpayer funds, especially when powerful interests are involved. When nearly $3 trillion is up for grabs, the potential for waste and misuse is astronomical—but that’s exactly the situation we’re in with COVID-19. 

The U.S has allocated at least $2.9 trillion to save small businesses, help families, and keep the economy going through this pandemic, not to mention treating and finding a cure for the disease. Of that amount, however, some $1.4 trillion has been spent without any accounting to the American people of where, and to whom, it went.

We do know some things. For example, we learned that large corporations like Shake Shack[1] worth $2 billion also received PPP loans meant for struggling small businesses[2].

Small businesses are far less likely to receive low-interest, forgivable loans to help them survive and pay employees. Especially minority-owned ones. While PPP loans worth millions were handed out to companies that didn’t truly need them, only 12 percent of Hispanic and Black applicants in the US got loans they requested, even though over half asked for $20,000 or less.[3] And, in Arizona, where 27.2 billion was spent, only 4.1% went to Black applicants and 31.1% to Hispanic business owners[4].

Other things we know about COVID-19 spending have been compiled by the Project on Government Oversight in a readily searchable format online. Arizonans can use this tool to discover who benefitted from a vast array of pandemic-related government programs.

To be fair, some initial hiccups with COVID-19 relief were understandable. Lawmakers had to rush into action when coronavirus emerged and they lacked the luxury of time to craft the best legislation possible. However, continued obstruction of meaningful oversight and failure to patch trouble spots cannot be excused so easily.

This is not just water under the bridge, either. A still raging pandemic and faltering economic rebound make trillions more in COVID-19 stimulus extremely likely. There is also movement afoot to repurpose $130 billion left in the fraud- and abuse-laden PPP. 

We should not allow Congress to commit such enormous sums without straightforward answers about all coronavirus spending to date. We must also demand stringent safeguards to ensure additional funds are managed more responsibly so that meaningful assistance can reach small businesses and families in need.

Lea Márquez Peterson is the former President of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber and a Commissioner on the Arizona Corporation Commission. 


[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/which-companies-are-returning-their-ppp-loan-here-s-list-n1194566

[2] https://www.12news.com/article/money/ppp-loans-released/75-cf905bec-53ee-4f13-a306-f157856d3ef4

[3] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paycheck-protection-program-black-hispanic-business-owners-shut-out-survey/

[4] https://beta.covidtracker.pogo.org/


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