This story has been updated to reflect additional information.
The publicly traded parent company of Miami restaurant chain Pollo Tropical – which employs Democratic Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s husband as an executive – has received two taxpayer-funded loans totaling $ 15 million. dollars intended for small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Fiesta Restaurant Group Inc., which has more than 10,000 employees, on April 8 secured a loan of $ 10 million under the Paycheck Protection Program, money that does not have to be repaid if it is used to keep employees at work, according to a Securities and Filing of the Foreign Exchange Commission. A second loan of $ 5 million was granted on April 17.
In a company filing Thursday night, Fiesta said it is “currently reviewing” the money to determine whether it is appropriate to keep it in light of new Treasury Department guidelines released Thursday that will prevent most major public enterprises to receive loans.
Mucarsel-Powell, a congresswoman from Miami who backed two bills that sent a total of $ 659 billion to the coronavirus relief program known as PPP, said she opposed the large publicly traded companies – like Fiesta – receiving government money.
A separate $ 500 billion prize pool has been set aside for large companies affected by the coronavirus.
Mucarsel-Powell staff on Thursday attempted to portray the law as flawed because it allows large corporations to compete for small business loans, which they said Republicans put in the relief bill. emergency.
“MP Mucarsel-Powell does not agree with the language Republicans have insisted on being included in the law that allows large companies to receive aid intended for small businesses,” Mucarsel chief of staff said -Powell, Carlos Paz, in a statement.
Republicans slammed Mucarsel-Powell on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee saying the MP allowed her husband’s company to “swindle” money from the government fund. Mucarsel-Powell is running for re-election in November and will likely face the Republican Mayor of Miami-Dade, Carlos Gimenez.
There is no indication that Powell played a role in Fiesta’s PPP loan application.
Robert Powell, Mucarsel-Powell’s husband, works as the legal vice president at Fiesta Group, according to his LinkedIn profile. Florida Politics first reported on Powell’s work on Fiesta, which began in August 2018.
This is not the first time that members of the Mucarsel-Powell and Gimenez family have come under political attack.
Powell previously worked as general counsel for companies owned at least in part by Igor Kolomoisky, a wealthy Ukrainian businessman accused of contract murders and embezzlement, a job which Republicans also attacked during the 2018 campaign of Mucarsel-Powell against the representative of the time. Carlos Curbelo.
Democrats attacked Gimenez for his family’s work, including lobbying his son on behalf of Donald Trump’s efforts to gain private control of a Key Biscayne County-owned golf course in 2014.
Powell did not respond to a request for comment.
Fiesta Restaurant Group, which is based in Dallas and also owns the Texas-based chain Taco Cabana, said in its Thursday filing that it would use the loans, if it keeps them, “only for salary costs and related benefits. for the period, including recently implemented salary increases for hourly associates.
The record also indicates that the base salary of Fiesta executives has been reduced by 20 to 35 percent effective April 24 and that the board will not accept fees for the next fiscal quarter.
“The company plans to use a portion of the proceeds available as a result of the board and executive reductions to fund programs benefiting team members at Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana restaurants,” the file said.
Pollo Tropical restaurants in South Florida remain open for drive-thru and take-out.
The PPP loans were intended for businesses that employ less than 500 people, but a loophole in the original version of the legislation allows businesses in different locations, such as restaurant chains that each employ less than 500 people, to apply for the loan. . At least two beneficiaries of the loophole, hamburger chain Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, have announced they will repay their PPP loans.
A full list of PPP beneficiaries has not been made public, but publicly traded companies have been required to report loans on company records. The Associated Press has identified 94 publicly traded companies that have received PPP loans, including Fiesta and the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables.
Fiesta applied for its PPP loan through JP Morgan Chase Bank, which has helped almost all of its private and business banking customers who applied for a PPP loan get one. But only one in 15 retail bank customers who applied for a loan from Chase were successful, according to the New York Times.
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who helped develop the P3 program as chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, said the Treasury Department will issue new guidelines specifying that a public company like Fiesta with market value of $ 189 million will not be eligible for the program.
“Today, the Treasury will clarify that a public company with substantial market value and access to capital markets is unlikely to be able to #PPP good faith certification, ”Rubio tweeted Thursday. “They have until May 7 to reimburse # PPP loan without penalty.
Paz said that Mucarsel-Powell expects all companies to follow the new Treasury Department guidelines: “With today’s reports that the Trump administration will now offer new guidelines to limit access from large corporations to this relief fund, guidelines she advocated, she expects all businesses to follow the letter and spirit of the law.
Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott has proposed a number of changes to the P3 program, including a requirement that banks process applications on a first come, first served basis and require applicants to show that business has dried up in due to the current pandemic.
“Do you know which small businesses didn’t get a P3 loan? Your local cafe, florist, barber or family hardware store, ”Scott wrote in a Fox News op-ed. “After well-connected companies with long-standing financial relationships with banks got their forgivable loans, the program ran out of money. “
This story was originally published 23 April 2020 6.45 pm.