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Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, Pool)

Businesses with ties to Mississippi governor received loans

A company partly owned by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and a business where his wife works were recipients of hundreds of thousands of dollars from a federal rescue package meant to keep small businesses afloat in the coronavirus pandemic, according to data released Monday by the Treasury Department.

Southern Air Conditioning & Supply Inc., where Reeves is a shareholder and Coker & Palmer, Inc., an insurance agency where his wife, Elee Reeves, is a financial advisor, were among the businesses from Mississippi that received money in the coronavirus outbreak, according to the federal government. Both businesses were approved to receive between $150,000 and $350,000 each.

Parker Briden, a spokesperson for Reeves, said Monday that the governor has no “day-to-day role” with Southern Air Conditioning and Supply, a family business created and run by his father. He and his brother are minority shareholders, Briden said.

“The Governor has a lot of other work to be worried about,” Briden said in a statement. Reeves’s father, Southern Air Conditioning and Supply owner Terry Reeves, declined to comment Tuesday morning.

Additionally, Briden said Reeves was not aware that Coker & Palmer had been selected for a loan. The Associated Press reached out to Coker & Palmer for comment Monday evening but had not heard back as of Tuesday.

“Elee is her own woman, and has a career with a respected Mississippi business,” Briden said. “That should have nothing to do with her husband.”

The governors of at least eight states, both Republicans and Democrats, have ties to companies that received loans through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. Their associated companies’ loans ranged from $150,000 to more than $11 million. It is legal for businesses owned by elected officials to apply for and receive the loans.

Reeves said Monday he is not aware of any more PPP loans for businesses where his relatives work. Briden said Reeves is supportive of the program, which he said helped “countless” small businesses stay afloat.

“It worked as intended to keep many Mississippians employed through this crisis,” Briden said. “Obviously he had no role in creating or implementing it, but is glad that it has helped so many.”

The Paycheck Protection Program is the centerpiece of the federal government’s plan to rescue an economy devastated by shutdowns and uncertainty.

The program, which helps smaller businesses stay open and keep Americans employed during the pandemic, has been both popular and controversial. Under the PPP, the government is backing $659 billion in low-interest loans written by banks. Taxpayer money will pay off the loans if borrowers use them on payroll, rent and similar expenses.

Companies typically must have fewer than 500 workers to qualify. Demand was so great that a first infusion of $349 billion ran out in just two weeks. Many Main Street businesses couldn’t navigate the application process rapidly enough to get one of those first loans before funding dried up. Meanwhile, several hundred companies traded on stock exchanges — hardly the image of a small business — received loans maxing out at $10 million each, causing a public backlash and leading dozens to return the money.

Congress added $310 billion to the program, but confusing, shifting and sometimes restrictive rules cooled interest. About $140 billion was unclaimed as the application deadline closed June 30. With money still available, Congress voted to extend the program just as it was expiring, setting a new date of Aug. 8.

The public may never know the identity of more than 80% of the nearly 5 million beneficiaries to date because the administration has refused to release details on loans under $150,000 — the vast majority of borrowers. That secrecy spurred an open-records lawsuit by a group of news organizations, including The Associated Press. Still, the release of the data is the most complete look at the program’s recipients so far.

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