How Did Washington Heights Spend its PPP Loan Money?

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans have proved to be a crucial lifeline to small businesses in New York City during the pandemic shutdown. Even as the novel coronavirus redefines the small business landscape of the city, the PPP loans have helped some businesses survive and retain jobs in an economy with record unemployment rates.

But the disbursement of these loans seems to be random, some say. The SBA recently released PPP data distributed to small businesses. Unfortunately, the data dump does not provide much detail and has errors.

Here are a couple of examples from my neighborhood: Washington Heights. The PPP loan data excel sheet states that the SBA handed out $19,140 to a beekeeper/apiary in Washington Heights. A cursory Google search for beekeepers in the zip code does not reveal any such businesses. Three establishments engaged in soybean farming in Washington Heights have received $21,255 from the city. All three saved zero jobs, per the excel sheet. Twenty businesses who received loans over $150,000 are also listed as having retained zero jobs.

Breaking Down Washington Heights Data for PPP Loans

One hundred and forty-one businesses in Washington Heights received PPP loans in excess of $150,000. The 10033 zip code, which covers Inwood and parts of Washington Heights, had thirty-eight such loans and was the biggest recipient of money. With thirty-four loans, the 10031 zip code, which covers parts of Harlem and Washington Heights, came in second. The fewest loans in this range went to businesses in 10040, a largely residential neighborhood (and where I live).  

Two schools topped the list of loan recipients for amounts greater than $2 million or more.

One of them is an Inwood charter school that has garnered much positive publicity in recent years, though it seems to have a mixed record in test scores. According to the SBA, the PPP loan helped save one hundred and thirty-seven jobs at the school. (Presumably, fifty-six of those jobs were for teachers, who are pretty well-paid there). (Incidentally, the New York Times ran a story in June about charter schools receiving private and public funding as part of coronavirus relief programs).

The other big recipient was Yeshiva University High Schools, which runs schools throughout the country and has one close to my place. We don’t know how many jobs there were retained or saved thanks to the PPP loan because the SBA forgot to list the figure.

On an overall basis, eleven businesses in Washington Heights received PPP loans of $1 million or more. Six of them are registered as non-profits.

Two thousand one hundred and six businesses in Washington Heights received loans of amounts less than $150,000. The PPP loan data excel sheet does not provide identification information; hence, it is difficult to know which businesses received the biggest loans.

Again, the 10033 zip code had the most businesses for recipients of loan amounts less than $150,000. It was followed by the 10032 zip code. Seventy-three businesses received loans of more than $100,000 according to the SBA.

For the most part, loan disbursements in this category followed overall trends: Professional, Scientific and Technical services firms accounted for the highest number of such loans and food establishments and restaurants came next. (For those interested, one hundred and eighty-four food-related businesses received loans of less than $150,000).  

These numbers may look impressive; however, they do not amount to a substantive figure when you consider them within the context of PPP loan data for New York City. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Washington Heights ranks among neighborhoods with fewest PPP loan recipients.

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