The Main Street Bailout Awards To Companies In The U.S. Restaurant Chain, Rural State

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Over two frantic weeks, the U.S. government pledged $350 billion to Main Street businesses across America desperate for cash after coronavirus lockdowns.

Now a picture is emerging of who got the money. More than 25% of the total pot went to fewer than 2% of the firms that got relief. They include a number of publicly traded companies with thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales.

The loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration - totaling $342.3 billion as of Thursday - went to companies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories, and were spread across all 20 of the main industry sectors.

Congress directed the SBA to award $349 billion to struggling businesses with 500 or fewer workers as part of a $2.3 trillion coronavirus aid package that President Donald Trump signed into law on March 27. The Payroll Protection Program (PPP) was crafted to keep Americans off unemployment benefits, by giving small and mid-sized companies forgivable loans for keeping employees on the books.

The SBA does not make the loans directly but instead backs loans made by participating financial firms.

The three biggest state economies - California, Texas and New York - accounted for 23% of the loans, more than $82 billion. Meanwhile, businesses in a number of small, rural states that have avoided the brunt of the outbreak took home a disproportionate share of the pie.

The business sector receiving the most money was construction, with 13% of the total. The sector represents less than 9% of overall employment among U.S. firms with 500 or fewer employees, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2017, the latest available.

Companies on the front line of the virus - in the accommodation and food services sector - received about 9% of the pot while representing nearly 14% of workers among sub-500 person firms.

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