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EDITORIAL: Trump administration backs off loan secrecy

The Trump administration has reconsidered its misguided effort to keep secret the names and loan amounts of firms that received assistance under the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program. It’s the right move, but more needs to be done to ensure accountability when it comes to federal relief efforts intended to minimize the economic damage of the coronavirus shutdowns.

Less than two weeks after telling a Senate Committee that the taxpayers who funded the PPP grants had no right to see how the money was disbursed, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday reversed course and said the Small Business Administration would make the information available.

“I am pleased that we have been able to reach a bipartisan agreement on disclosure,” a statement from Mr. Mnuchin explained, “which will strike the appropriate balance of providing public transparency, while protecting the payroll and personal income information of small businesses, sole proprietors, and independent contractors.”

The disclosure rules will apply to all loans of more than $150,000 and will include “business names, addresses, demographic data and jobs supported,” according to The New York Times.

It’s unfortunate that the rules don’t apply to smaller loans as well, but some progress is better than none. Now it’s important that such standards be applied to any further legislation Congress considers to provide an additional taxpayer cushion for state and local governments, individuals and small businesses. Without such assurances, taxpayers will have no means to discover potential abuses.

Indeed, before Mr. Mnuchin agreed to make vital PPP data public, some members of Congress — including at least two Republicans who had ties to companies that received the handouts — were actively fighting to keep the information confidential. Among the politicians who “reaped benefits in some way” from the PPP legislation, Politico reported, was Nevada’s own Rep. Susie Lee, whose husband’s casino company received $5.6 million, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. To her credit, Rep. Lee, a Democrat, voted in favor of a bill requiring the disclosure of PPP grants.

This should not be controversial. Congress has spent more than $4 trillion on virus-related economic lifelines, and the American taxpayer has a clear vested interest in ensuring the funds are used properly.

“My simple, but very strong belief is that taxpayer dollars — when distributed by Congress and the executive branch of our government — should be transparent and subject to accountability,” Rep. Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat, told Politico. “Plain and simple.”

That comment should be mounted on 535 plaques and placed in the offices of every senator and representative in Washington.

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