Gaps in a recent disclosure by the U.S. Small Business Administration cloud the number of Maine jobs that may have been saved – at least temporarily – by the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Loan data provided by the agency this week offered the first public glance at the companies that benefited from the publicly funded program that has supplied more than $521 billion to U.S. employers to support them through the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

One category of data the SBA released is “jobs retained” as a result of the program. But loans to thousands of Maine companies are recorded as retaining zero jobs, or the category is left blank.

It is also unclear how the agency determined the scale of job retention, because companies are not asked to specify how many jobs the loan would save when they fill out the two-page application, and applicants need not provide workforce data until applying for loan forgiveness.

The SBA claimed Monday that over 240,000 Maine jobs were retained through the program.

“You had to say number of employees, (but) it doesn’t tell you how many you are saving,” said Craig Garofalo, chief operating officer at Kennebec Savings Bank, which processed many of the loan applications along with dozens of other banks in Maine. “What is being assumed is that all of those jobs are getting saved.”

When the program was launched in April, there was a rush to get loans approved and money into employers’ hands. Banks had no idea that the total number of employees at businesses and nonprofits receiving loans would later end up on a public report, Garofalo said.

“The fact that they were tracking that for any purpose was not something we were aware of,” he said. “It was not something we were required to put in to get the funding from SBA.”

Employers have until later this year to apply for loan forgiveness, based on how much of the loan was used for payroll and how many workers remained employed. That means the true job-saving impact of the program is still unknown.

“Final numbers likely won’t be able to be calculated until borrowers file for forgiveness,” said Martha Gaston, senior corporate communications manager for TD Bank, which processed the sixth-highest number of loans in the U.S., amounting to $8.4 billion.

Employers can have their loan forgiven if they spend at least 60 percent of the funding on payroll and rehire their staff by the end of the year, with some exemptions.

The program has been credited with rapidly providing a historic amount of financial relief to small businesses, but criticized for allowing large corporations to access funding, not prioritizing minority-owned and rural businesses and early restrictions that made it hard for some businesses to use effectively.

It is unclear why the SBA listed “jobs retained” when it does not appear to have adequate information to reach that conclusion.

“I cannot speak to the SBA’s methodology, how they calculated that field or why it was included in the report,” Gaston said.

About 27,200 loans worth $2.2 billion were received by Maine employers between April and the end of June.

The number of jobs potentially impacted by the program is also incomplete. The job retention field is either marked “zero” or left blank for more than 2,540 loan recipients in Maine.

Employers did not necessarily have to provide the number of employees to get their loan, though the agency asked for that information on the application, an SBA spokeswoman said. Companies will have to provide the number of employees supported by their loan in order to receive forgiveness.

The agency did not respond when asked how it came up with the number of jobs retained, and whether it merely assumed the number of employees companies listed on their applications all were retained.

Businesses that received loans were surprised to learn of apparent errors in the reporting of their information when contacted Tuesday.

Robert Anderson, owner of Anderson Landscaping in North Yarmouth, said he had no idea why the information showed his company retained no workers.

Anderson Landscaping received a loan of $150,000 to $350,000 through the program, which helped him keep 27 workers employed through the statewide stay-at-home order and business shutdown this spring.

“We retained everybody – we didn’t lay anybody off,” he said. Anderson said he believed the company’s number of employees was specified on his loan application.

Baker Newman Noyes, a Portland accounting firm, received a loan of between $5 million and $10 million, but also had zero job retention, according to the SBA disclosure.

In fact, the company used the money to keep 281 staff on payroll, said Managing Principal Dayton Benway. The firm provided a count of its employees on its application, he said.

“I am not sure how the SBA arrived at zero jobs retained for Baker Newman Noyes,” Benway said. “I am not aware that we ever received a request for the retention information. In our case, the retention statistic that was included in the data does not reflect our reality.”

Catholic Charities Maine actually has more employees now than when it took out a $2 million to $5 million paycheck protection loan in April, said spokeswoman Judy Katzel. According to the SBA disclosure, zero employees were retained through the loan.

“We had 407 people on payroll (when applying for the loan). Today we have 413,” Katzel said. “The PPP loan really was critical to our ability to retain our staff and keep providing services.”


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