During the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, large sums of federal aid went to some of Illinois’ most popular brands, many of Chicago’s major cultural institutions, charter schools and other private schools. – and even at one of the largest mega-churches in the country, according to data released on Monday.
In March, when the COVID-19 outbreak first prompted many states to shut down their economies, Congress and President Donald Trump approved a move meant to help avoid “small business” layoffs. The Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, has distributed over half a trillion dollars across the country in just a few months.
Trump administration officials initially declined to provide details on who got these forgivable loans and how much money one of the recipients was sent, citing concerns over the disclosure of proprietary information.
But data released on Monday identified anyone who receives $ 150,000 or more – including more than 27,000 beneficiaries in Illinois. A WBEZ analysis of the new data found that 255 companies, nonprofits, and other organizations had the largest loans available – over $ 5 million and up to $ 10 million.
Records show those with the largest PPP loans included the Field Museum of Natural History, Four Seasons Heating and Air Conditioning in Bedford Park, Des Plaines-based Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, Mario Tricoci Hair Salon & Day chain. Spa, Oberweis Dairy, Willow Creek Community Church, Brookfield Zoo, and the Chicago Botanical Garden in Glencoe.
The president of Oberweis Dairy in North Aurora is Jim Oberweis, the Republican state senator and frequent candidate for senior positions. he is candidate for the general election in November against United States Democratic Representative Lauren Underwood.
In a statement, Oberweis said the company “has requested and obtained PPP funding to save the jobs and paychecks of its employees during this unprecedented time.” Although the government only provided a range for the loans, a spokesperson for Oberweis said the company received between $ 5.6 million and $ 6 million under the PPP.
Oberweis also said that he does not receive any salary from the company, that he only has an advisory role and that the CEO and chairman of Oberweis Dairy is his son, Joe.
Company officials said they were “undoubtedly concerned about the survival of our business as we could not confidently predict which parts of it would be allowed to operate.”
Oberweis is described on his congressional campaign website as a strong supporter of free market principles. The Underwood campaign declined to comment.
Willow Creek Community Church, which has seven sites in the Chicago area, was one of the busiest churches in the country, but was rocked by allegations against his longtime pastor during the last years.
On Tuesday, the church’s new senior pastor, Dave Dummitt, sent a letter to his congregation regarding the news of the loan.
“We recognize that trustworthy and wise Christians and churches find reasons both for and against accepting these loans,” Dummitt written in a blog post on the church website. “Our intention, in accordance with the objective of the law, was to keep as many staff as possible.”
Yet, he said, Willow Creek must now put some employees on leave. A church spokeswoman declined to say exactly how much Willow Creek has received from the government.
Another PPP loan of over $ 5 million has been made to Pangea Equity Partners II LP, according to data released by the US Small Business Administration. Other federal documents show that the entity receiving federal aid is linked to an apartment empire that has filed thousands of eviction cases in Chicago in the past, according to the Chicago Reader.
A smaller federal loan of between $ 2 million and $ 5 million has been made to Sterling Bay, the Chicago developer of the Lincoln Yards development project in the city’s northern neighborhood. Sterling Bay is also moving $ 1.3 billion in funding assistance through tax increases of the city, after aldermen approved the company’s plan last year.
In a statement released Monday, a spokesperson for the developer said, “Sterling Bay has requested PPP assistance to avoid future layoffs and pay cuts for our Chicago-based team of over 200 employees.”
Chicago Public Media, the nonprofit that operates WBEZ, has received $ 2.8 million in PPP funding, a spokesperson said. Federal aid “has enabled us to avoid layoffs or holidays for any staff member in recent months,” the spokeswoman said in June. Chicago Public Media ultimately laid off 12 employees.
The editors of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Messenger of the day has also secured loans of $ 2-5 million, as have many other household names in local business and culture, including:
The Buona Beef fast food chain.
Home Run Inn Pizzerias.
Navy Pier Inc.
Illinois Planned Parenthood.
Lincoln Park Zoo.
Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art.
Museum of Science and Industry.
Monterrey Security Consultants, which provides guards at Soldier Field.
Even with this help from Washington, the pandemic and the resulting shutdown orders led to layoffs in many large local cultural institutions, including the Museum of Science and Industry, the Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum.
PPP loans have also been made to many well-established private schools, including Lake Forest Academy, Fenwick High School, Frances Xavier Warde School, Lycee Francais de Chicago, Marist High School and Loyola Academy, as well as several State Funded Charter Schools and Illinois Charter School Network.
“It was a relatively straightforward decision for us to ask for,” said Andrew Broy, president of INCS, of the $ 340,000 PPP loan his organization secured.
He said the pandemic forced the organization’s fundraising gala to be canceled and Washington’s loan would prevent any layoffs and be forgiven.
Notably absent from the list unveiled Monday, the Chicago-based sandwich shop chain Potbelly, which repaid a $ 10 million PPP loan. in the middle of negative publicity in April.
Federal officials said the companies on the recently released list had secured the vast majority of funds paid out under the program. Yet the 27,412 Illinois who were named Monday represent only a small fraction of the state’s estimated 200,000 loan recipients, who have garnered a total of over $ 22 billion.
This story has been updated.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative journalist in the Government and Politics team at WBEZ.