The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020.
A major part of the CARES Act provided for a total of $669 million in federal funds to be designated for financial relief for small and medium-sized businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The crush of applications meant the fund ran out in minutes. Lenders scrambled to handle applications and disburse money to struggling businesses, with 4 million disbursements made by the middle of May. However, many companies that were eligible were unable to access assistance. Public outcry about nationally recognized businesses receiving funds led to the Small Business Administration and Treasury Department establishing a “Safe Harbor” return program whereby businesses could return loans. The Safe Harbor deadline, originally set for May 7, was extended twice but ended on May 18.
Now, federal authorities are investigating and filing fraud charges against those thought to have taken advantage of the new program. Applicants who falsely certified any part of the loan request could face criminal charges, fines, and restitution. In addition, as forgiveness applications are submitted and approved, use of PPP funds for anything other than allowed business purposes could subject applicants to investigation.