Planned Parenthood Asked To Return Funds From Paycheck Protection Program

May 21, 2020
Originally published on May 21, 2020 9:59 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Which organizations should get money from the federal government's coronavirus relief programs? Like many, Planned Parenthood chapters around this country received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program. Several Republican senators now want Planned Parenthood to return the money. NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon is on this story. Sarah, good morning.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did the Planned Parenthood chapters receive exactly?

MCCAMMON: So what we're talking about is the federal loan program under what's known as the CARES Act, the one meant to keep small business workers on the payroll during this crisis. So small businesses and small nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees can apply for forgivable loans. And it's important to note that while Planned Parenthood Federation of America is a big national organization, the national group says they did not apply for these funds. Instead, it's the local Planned Parenthood organizations that operate clinics around the country that receive the money. And I talked with Stephanie Fraim, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of southwest and central Florida. She says they got a little over $2 million mostly to cover employee paychecks.

STEPHANIE FRAIM: The economic uncertainty at that moment was profound. And the two weeks while we waited for this loan, we spent having some very tough conversations about what we would do if we didn't get this loan.

MCCAMMON: So it's not clear how much Planned Parenthood or its affiliated groups have applied for or received nationwide. Fox News has reported and some Republican senators have repeated a figure of $80 million combined nationally. But the Small Business Administration, which administrates these loans, would only say that the agency doesn't comment on individual borrowers.

INSKEEP: OK. But in any case, some money was loaned to these Planned Parenthood chapters, loans that they may not have to pay back if they keep people on the payroll, like a lot of other businesses and nonprofits. But this particular nonprofit does work that some Republican lawmakers are ideologically opposed to. What are they saying?

MCCAMMON: Right. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who's chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, says that Planned Parenthood isn't eligible for these funds under the program's rules. He wants the money returned immediately. He wants the SBA, the Small Business Administration, to investigate why and how Planned Parenthood got the money. And I talked with Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, who's also objected to this. He also wants Planned Parenthood to send the money back.

JAMES LANKFORD: That's what the Los Angeles Lakers have done. That's what Shake Shack has done. That's what Ruth's Chris has done. So other organizations that it was exposed that they should not have taken the money have returned the money. So that would be the reasonable thing for them to be able to do.

MCCAMMON: And Lankford says because Planned Parenthood affiliates nationwide have many more than 500 employees combined, they don't qualify. So, Steve, there's some dispute about how to interpret these rules. But let's not forget, there is a big political element to this. I mean, currently, it is illegal in most cases for federal funds to pay for abortion, but there is a longstanding political debate about any federal funds going to Planned Parenthood because of what it has come to represent about the national debate around abortion.

INSKEEP: And, of course, Planned Parenthood has argued they do a whole lot more than perform abortions. How is Planned Parenthood responding to the specific criticism here?

MCCAMMON: Well, they say they haven't received word from the SBA, the Small Business Administration, about this. They only know what Republican senators are saying and what's been reported by Fox, which says that the SBA has sent a letter to Planned Parenthood affiliates informing them that they're not eligible for this money and instructing them to return it. But, again, SBA isn't commenting on this.

INSKEEP: Are you able to figure out what the rules actually say and how they actually apply to this particular organization?

MCCAMMON: It's hard to say for sure, Steve. I talked to a few lawyers about this, and I'm hearing that there is just a lot of confusion. Republican senators insist Planned Parenthood doesn't qualify under the rules. Planned Parenthood says each local affiliate looked at the program and decided whether to apply for this paycheck support. But a lot of lawyers say the rules are unclear, and they've been changing.

INSKEEP: Sarah, thanks for the update.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.