Jessica L. Jeane, J.D.
Director of Public Policy & Communications
November 5, 2020
Today, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to release by November 19, 2020, the names and addresses of all recipients, and precise loan amounts issued under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program.
Memorandum Opinion: WP Co., LLC v. U.S. Small Business Admin., D.D.C., Civil Action No.20-1240, (November 5, 2020).
Earlier this year, eleven national news organizations submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking records of loans issued under the PPP and EIDL program administered by the SBA. Generally, these requests sought detailed information from the SBA regarding each approved PPP and EIDL loan.
Thus, in apparent accordance with the Court’s prior order, the SBA in July released limited information dependent upon loan specifications, taking the following “either/or approach” for PPP loans:
- For loans of $150,000 or more, the SBA released the recipient’s name and address but withheld the actual loan amount and instead provided the following ranges: $150,000 to $350,000; $350,000 to $1 million; $1 million to $2 million; $2 million to $5 million; and $5 million to $10 million.
- For loans of less than $150,000, the SBA released the precise dollar amounts, but withheld the borrower’s name and street address.
Additionally, the SBA took a “similar partial-disclosure approach” for the EIDL program, releasing certain information for those loans in July sans names and street addresses of the recipients.
In a subsequent Motion for Summary Judgment, the SBA argued that FOIA Exemptions 4 and 6 protect the withheld information from disclosure; however, the news-organization Plaintiffs filed a Cross-Motion, arguing that FOIA does not permit the agency to withhold any of the PPP or EIDL loan records.
As the Court notes in its opinion, citing to case precedent, “Congress enacted FOIA ‘to pierce the veil of administrative secrecy and to open agency action to the light of public scrutiny.’” Ultimately, the Court held in the case at hand that the SBA’s argument for loan recipients’ interest in personal privacy is outweighed by public interest in disclosure.
“Here, the Court finds that the balancing is not particularly close,” Judge James E. Boasberg writes. “The significant public interest in shedding light on SBA’s administration of the PPP and EIDL program dramatically outweighs any limited private interest in nondisclosure.”
At this time, it remains to be seen whether the SBA will file an appeal. As of the evening of November 5, the agency had neither released a statement nor any additional information on the matter.
NSA presents this information in the interest of its members for information purposes only and is not intended to provide, nor should it be relied upon, as legal, tax, or accounting advice.