A trove of juicy financial data just became public, but it could have some major errors.
The Small Business Administration released a massive spreadsheet listing the companies that received a forgivable loan of $150,000 or more as a component of the coronavirus relief plan called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
While most notable tech companies were absent from the list, the spreadsheet shows that the scooter company Bird received a loan of between $5 million and $10 million.
Pretty nice of the government to so generously support electric scooters, right?! There's just one problem: Bird says it neither applied for nor received the loan.
“Bird was erroneously listed as a company that filed for a PPP Loan," Bird said. "We did not officially apply for nor did we receive a PPP Loan. We decided as a company not to file an application as we did not want to divert critical funding from small and local businesses.”
Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden shared more information on Twitter about the company's decision not to apply for a loan.
New York Times reporter Erin Griffith first reported the discrepancy on Twitter. Griffith also tweeted that two prominent financial firms, Index Ventures and Foundation Capital, are similarly denying that they received loans. Index Ventures confirmed that the address in the spreadsheet is not accurate, and that it did not apply for a loan.
"We can confirm that Index Ventures VIII did not apply for a PPP loan at any point," Index wrote in a statement. "The entry listed is in error, as although it lists us as a business name, it is not our address or correct information about our fund. Our legal team is looking into why our name is listed and look to correct it ASAP.”
Bird confirmed that its address in the SBA's spreadsheet is accurate.
The Small Business Administration responded to Mashable's request for more information with a clarification on how the system keeps records. An administration official said that a loan could appear in the data if the lender didn't officially cancel it after returning the money.
However, that doesn't fully explain Bird's situation, since the company says — and its bank, Citi, confirmed — it never actually applied for a loan.
“Citi has not funded a PPP loan for Bird," Citi wrote in a statement. "Citi will seek the assistance of the SBA to ensure that the agency’s data accurately reflects actual PPP lending.”
What is going on here?
While Bird says it decided against applying for a loan in April, that money could have come in handy one month earlier when Bird laid off 30-40 percent of its workforce at the end of March. The coronavirus hit Bird hard, as orders to shelter in place hit in spring when people were more likely to rent scooters.
So is this a $10 million spreadsheet error, a tech company cover-up, or something more complicated? It's not yet clear, but it does cast doubt on whether the 660,000+ other companies listed on the spreadsheet actually got $150K+ from the federal government. We wish we could say this lack of government transparency and competence was shocking. But, it's really, really not.
UPDATE: July 6, 2020, 7:40 p.m. EDT This article was updated to include a statement and more information from Index Ventures.
UPDATE: July 7, 2020, 1 p.m. EDT This article was updated with more information from Citi.