Plan To Help Small Businesses Also Benefits Some Big Ones

Three-quarters of loans under the Payroll Protection Program went to the smallest of businesses, but those loans composed only 17% of the money loaned.

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As businesses go, Ruth's Hospitality Group, the company behind Ruth's Chris steak houses, is many things.

Small is not one of them.

Yet two of its subsidiaries were each able to obtain maximum $10 million loans under the Payroll Protection Program, touted as a lifeline to small businesses being devastated by the economic calamity caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

That $20 million is 100 times larger than the size of the average loan given in Florida under the program, which was originally designed for businesses with 500 or few employees.

Ruth's owns or franchises more than 150 locations worldwide and reported having 5,700 employees, $468 million in income and $42 million in profits for the year ending last Dec. 31.

But its subsidiaries are eligible for the $10 million loans because Congress agreed with corporate lobbyists that the definition of "small business" in the PPP should include some big businesses, including those wholly owned by publicly-traded corporations like Ruth's Hospitality Group.

A call Friday to its corporate headquarters in Central Florida seeking comment on its participation in the PPP has not been returned.

But Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who helped create the program, took to Twitter Friday to criticize those who "report inaccurate information on PPP."

His tweet linked to a video in which he reported inaccurate information on PPP.

"I’m not telling you this is a perfect program but I am telling you there are millions of small businesses with less than 25 or 30 employees that have benefited from the program," he said.

In fact, the SBA reported Friday, only 1.2 million businesses meeting Rubio's criteria received some of the nearly $350 billion in loans before the program ran out of money after two weeks. Even counting all businesses, the total number of loans was 1.7 million -- not "millions."

Rubio went on to accurately note 74% of the loans were for $150,000 or less -- which he said indicated they were to businesses with payrolls of up to $720,000 a year, and which may employ around 25 to 30 employees.

But he failed to report that those loans account for only 17% of all the money loaned under PPP.

Four percent of the loans were for more than $1 million, and they consumed 45 percent of the money.

A call to Rubio's office and an email to his press secretary seeking clarification on his comments went unanswered.

Rubio and the Trump administration want another $250 billion added to the program, but Republicans and Democrats have not reached an agreement on legislation to replenish the fund.

In Florida, nearly 90,000 loans were approved in an average amount of $200,000 each.

In addition to Ruth's Hospitality, other publicly-traded companies that reported receiving or expecting to receive loans of between $5 million and $10 million were other restaurant chains Dave and Busters and J. Alexanders, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The loans -- for two years at 1% interest -- do not have to be paid back if 75% of the amount is used to keep paying employees for eight weeks, among other requirements.

The top industries benefiting, consuming nearly half the funds, are in order: construction; professional, scientific and technical services; manufacturing; and health care and social assistance.

Accommodation and food services and retail trade are next on the list, each sector getting about 9% of the funds, according to the SBA.

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