Treasury and SBA officials have said they plan to begin considering applications shortly. SBA officials say they opened the system for forgiveness Aug. 10, two days after the program closed. The agency has 90 days to consider each application after it receives bank approval, according to the Cares Act.
The agencies also need to do much more to prevent fraud, according to two watchdogs who testified at a House hearing Thursday. The SBA Inspector General’s office has received tens of thousands of fraud tips, and federal officials have launched hundreds of investigations into allegations of people creating fake businesses and stealing identities to fraudulently obtain SBA funds.
The Justice Department has already charged 57 people with trying to steal a total of $175 million and has warned that abuse of the program is probably far more widespread.
Officials from the IG’s office and Government Accountability Office told members of Congress that SBA could do much more on the front end to prevent fraud.
SBA and Treasury officials were warned in a June report by the GAO that greater controls were needed on lending programs, in particular because PPP relied on business owners and their banks to self-certify their eligibility for the program.
The SBA inspector general’s office issued an additional report in July warning that $250 million in disaster relief funds from the agency’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program went to businesses that were launched after Jan. 1, 2020, which should have rendered them ineligible. Another $45 million in duplicate loans were issued, according to the inspector general.
SBA chief Jovita Carranza did not immediately comment through a spokesman.
The agency has still not put in the proper controls to identify and respond to possible fraud in PPP and EIDL, testified William Shear, GAO director of financial markets and community investment, who said the delays mean that “it will be a long time until we know how much fraud has been in the program.”
“There was a push to get loans out, but with the passage of time it becomes much more troubling that the fraud framework is not in place,” Shear told the House Small Business subcommittee on investigations, oversight and regulations.
Treasury and SBA officials have said they will audit PPP loans of more than $2 million and consider reviewing other loans, as well. Hannibal “Mike” Ware, the SBA inspector general, testified that investigators had identified borrowers who had created accounts established with stolen identities. In other cases, borrowers had received deposits into personal bank accounts with no evidence of business activity.
He said that to prevent additional funds from being stolen, SBA needed to be in regulator contact with investigators as new schemes are uncovered.
“I think that they have been pretty responsive to that,” Ware said.
Members of both parties expressed concern about the amount of money from the programs being lost to waste and abuse.
“We need to ensure that loans went to the intended businesses and that the loans were used properly,” Rep. Ross Spano (R-Fla.) said.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chair of the subcommittee, said she was shocked by the revelations.
“I’m just astounded that these terrible acts took place when legitimate, deserving businesses could use the help,” she said.
Aaron Gregg contributed to this report.