The Heist

Published — October 8, 2020

Better off?: Transcript

Protesters march at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Grapevine, Texas, on July 26, 2017. Protesters from a coalition of different unions participated in a picket against American Airlines and its ongoing contract negotiations with ground workers. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Introduction

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Transcript

UNIDENTIFIED VOICES: From the Center for Public Integrity, this is The Heist. 

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAPPING)

SALLY HERSHIPS, HOST:  It’s November 2017. We’re at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, DC. There’s an auditorium full of executives in suits. They’re attending an annual networking event for CEOs put on by the Wall Street Journal. 

Trump’s Tax bill — the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — hasn’t passed yet. It’s just been introduced into Congress and if passed, it would slash corporate income tax rates by 40 percent. The Trump Administration is promising that those savings will trickle down into the economy in the form of jobs, pay, and investment into the private sector.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you once again for being here. Thank you very much, Gary, for joining us bright and early. 

GARY COHN: Thanks for having me. 

ANNOUNCER: So the topic of this session is taxes, taxes, taxes. 

HERSHIPS: Gary Cohn walks onto the stage. At this time he’s still the Director of the White House’s National Economic Council, and he’s also one of Trump’s main economic advisers. 

He’s at this conference, in front of all those CEOs, to promote the tax bill and to reinforce Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s promise that the estimated $1.5 trillion bill will end up paying for itself. 

JOHN BUSSEY: Other questions for Gary Cohn?

HERSHIPS: Toward the end of his presentation, Cohn takes some questions. Wall Street Journal editor John Bussey grabs the mic, and he turns to the audience of CEOs

BUSSEY: Can I ask you all a quick question? If the tax reform bill goes through, do you plan to increase investment, your company’s investment, capital investment? Just a show of hands, if the tax reform goes through.

HERSHIPS: By capital investment Bussey means spending the money on new buildings, factories, equipment, the sort of things that Republicans promised the tax cuts would do. But even though the place is packed with dozens of corporate executives, only a few hands go up.  

COHN: Ok. Why aren’t the other hands up?

BUSSEY: Why aren’t the other hands up? 

NEWS ANCHOR: With the House set to vote on the Trump proposal a bit of an awkward moment for Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn yesterday. The Trump White House has argued the tax cuts would lead to private sector investment, but the idea seemed to get a mixed reception at a meeting of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council yesterday. 

HERSHIPS: As we know the tax cuts passed anyway. And we also know that, not only did the tax cuts not pay for themselves, as promised, they did not spur a lot of capital investment. In other words, it was a giveaway of hundreds of billions of dollars to corporations that will be paid for by future taxpayers. By us. I’m Sally Herships and this is The Heist, from the Center for Public Integrity. This is our first season, and we’re doing a deep dive into how power works in Trump’s America. 

In this episode we follow the impact of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. And we ask, are American workers and investors actually better off as a result?

To tell this story, I’m joined by Andres Caballero, a reporter and documentary filmmaker. 

ANDRES CABALLERO: In this episode we’re going to focus on one company, American Airlines, and we’re going to follow how it handled its money leading up to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and afterwards, what they did with their extra tax bonanza. Also, we’ll follow the company into the current pandemic, when it received billions of dollars becoming the biggest recipient of stimulus money among major US airlines.  

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRPLANE INTERIOR)

DEBORAH VOLPE: It is the best gig in the world. We can complain about maybe the passenger load or you know passengers acting up and you know not playing nice in the sandbox per se, but at the end of the day, I don’t know anyone that would trade it in.

CABALLERO: Deborah Volpe has been a flight attendant for 33 years. She remembers wanting to become a flight attendant when she was nine years old.  

VOLPE: And United Airlines had the commercial, I’m leaving on a jet plane.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM UNITED COMMERCIAL)

UNITED COMMERCIAL: All my bags are packed. I’m ready to go. Graduation day at United’s Stewardess College. 

VOLPE: And the commercial was actually the flight attendant or at the time, the stewardess graduation, where they would put the stewardess hat on top of the young lady. And it was very emotional. And I remember watching that and I just kept watching it and watching it. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM UNITED COMMERCIAL) 

CABALLERO: Deborah applied three times to become a flight attendant, but she was 4’11 and she kept failing the 84-inch reach test, which was a problem when it came to the overhead compartments. 

One day in 1987 she came across a newspaper ad for an airline called America West. They called her up for an interview in Phoenix and this time she got the job. She was 26 years old. 

HERSHIPS: Four years later America West declared bankruptcy. Flight attendants were already among the lowest paid in the industry and Deborah’s salary got cut by about 30 percent. She was back where she started, at $12,000 a year. 

VOLPE: If you’re in college and you said I’ll never eat Top Ramen again, wrong! You were eating Top Ramen again. And what we would do on our days off we would get on an airplane, a lot of people all employees and we would do like say Phoenix-Wichita-Phoenix so we can eat. We would go in the bathrooms and take toilet paper and paper towel because you know, can’t afford that. So let’s snatch it from the airplane or on a layover. We were loading up. 

HERSHIPS: One thing that almost everyone can agree on when it comes to the airline industry is how cyclical, unpredictable, and unstable it can be. Eventually in one of those moments of instability, America West merged with US Airways, and then ultimately combined with American Airlines. 

CABALLERO: By 2015 Deborah had been through three mergers and four recessions as a flight attendant. Things started to feel more stable for her, although not for all American flight attendants. 

VOLPE: And so here we are moving along in prosperity, but still knowing that so many of our brothers and sisters in the industry are so low pay, the regionals who are flying the same routes we’re flying, but they’re making 40 percent less. 

CABALLERO: In 2015 American Airlines had finally come out of bankruptcy, leaving behind years of losses that followed 9/11 and the 2008 recession. 

HERSHIPS: Company spirits were high. So high that at the annual Halloween party 

American’s president at the time arrived riding on the back of a Harley Davidson, dressed as Taylor Swift. 

(SOUNDBITE FROM PARTY — “BAD BLOOD” BY TAYLOR SWIFT)

HERSHIPS: A video of the party got posted online. In it you can see CEO Doug Parker dressed up as Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. 

DOUG PARKER: OK before they start I just wanna make it clear, again, these people train our pilots. 

CABALLERO: Doug Parker takes the stage and along with other top company executives they perform “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” 

(SOUNDBITE FROM PARTY — “I CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION” BY THE ROLLING STONES) 

CABALLERO: That’s Doug Parker, as Keith Richards, with black eyeliner and a red bandana, pretending to play a red electric guitar. In the years that followed, nothing spoiled the party. The company continued raking in billions in profits.

(SOUNDBITE FROM AMERICAN AIRLINES AD) 

CABALLERO: By then American was flying more passengers than any airline in the world.  Parker was feeling bullish about the airline’s future, and he talked it up in ads and TV interviews.

AMERICAN AIRLINES AD: We’re ready for our close up, with more new planes than any other airline in the world. 

PARKER: Since the merger that we did with US Airways three years ago, we’ve been producing profits on average about $5 billion a year, pre-tax.

(SOUNDBITE FROM AMERICAN AIRLINES AD) 

PARKER: That feels like the new reality and that old stuff in the past, we’ve gotten cured. And so we think we have a business now that’s gonna be profitable in good and bad times.

(MUSIC)

CABALLERO: We reached out to American Airlines multiple times for an interview with CEO Doug Parker to talk about this and other issues but he declined.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOLOUS: President Trump about to appear on the South Lawn of the White House, you see it right now, surrounded by Republicans to celebrate the passage of their massive $1.5 trillion tax plan. 

DONALD TRUMP: We are giving them a big beautiful Christmas present in the form of a tremendous tax cut. It will be the biggest cut in the history of our country. It’ll also be tax reform and it’ll create jobs.

CABALLERO: It actually wasn’t the largest tax cut in history. But it was big. Days later a lot of corporations started announcing employee bonuses. 

NEWS CLIP: American Airlines is the latest corporation to jump on the bonus bandwagon, announcing today that all employees would be getting a $1000 bonus.

CABALLERO: And that was the first time that Deborah Volpe heard of the tax cuts.

VOLPE: If it’s a dollar I was never supposed to have I’m grateful, I’m blessed. It’s all good, right? But where is the rest of this going? All we got was $1,000. So now you’re sounding ungrateful for $1000 and you’re not ungrateful, but you’re also looking and saying. Come on, it’s a bit greedy in a way. Show us how you’re putting it back into our company and back for us, your frontline employees. 

HERSHIPS: It was around that same time that Deborah remembers seeing the now infamous picture of US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. 

VOLPE: I hear that name and my blood runs cold. I have an image of him and his wife, you know, with the stack of money and that insensitive photo. Him and his wife, she had like long gloves on and it was an offensive photo of them posing with money. 

 
CABALLERO: Like Deborah, Gary Peterson has been working for the airlines for a long time and he recalls those 2017 bonuses, too.

GARY PETERSON: I think it was a thousand dollars. But I don’t remember exactly. So while we were getting this little baby infusion of money that might have helped put food on the table or maybe helped with rent for a month, corporate America was reaping rewards that are our hundreds upon hundreds of millions and could even be into the billions in reality across the board.

CABALLERO: Peterson has been working for the airlines 30 years, most of that time at American. As an air mechanic he has handled all sorts of things related to repair and maintenance of planes. He first heard of the tax cuts through TWU, the union that represents American Airlines mechanics. He’s the union’s International vice president. 

PETERSON: It’s all about optics and unfortunately I have a picture that will never be erased from my mind. And that is Doug Parker saying the airline will never lose money again. And at that time, I remember chastising that statement pretty loudly because nobody can predict the future. When you’re taking in billions of dollars, and you’re not saving for the future, they’re buying new airplanes, they’re building new buildings. 

CABALLERO: Gary’s talking about American deciding to demolish its old headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas and to build an entirely new $350 million campus. It also upgraded its first class lounges and its fleet. 

HERSHIPS: So you could say American was doing exactly what the tax cuts were intended for — re-investing in the company. That’s not exactly what happened, but we’ll get to that later. In the meantime, what was clear is that American wasn’t investing in its employees. 

PETERSON: We have workers in the airline industry, they have to go and get welfare to put food on the table because their wages are still so low.

CABALLERO: To bring up those wages, Gary’s union had been in contract negotiations with American for at least a year. Months after the tax law was passed more than 80 members of Congress signed a letter addressed to CEO Doug Parker, urging him to conclude negotiations and ensure that all employees earn a living wage. They also pointed at the thousands of American regional workers, like gate service agents and flight attendants who were making less than $10 per hour.  

HERSHIPS: And Parker seemed to be receptive to the need to pay workers better. He actually got some heat from investors for advocating to raise wages. 

CABALLERO: And mechanics were demanding raises, better benefits, more time off. But the major sticking point in the negotiations? The outsourcing of mechanic and fleet service jobs to countries like Brazil, China, El Salvador. American was opening up repair stations abroad and hiring foreign workers to do maintenance on its planes. 

PETERSON: We were not going to agree to more outsourcing of work. In fact, we wanted to turn the dial, even if it was minimally back to more work to be done by US domestic workers.

HERSHIPS: To be clear, offshoring is a common practice going back to the 1980s. It’s a big way for airlines to cut costs. Part of the purpose of the tax bill was to bring those jobs back to the United States. 

PETERSON: In theory the tax breaks that came out were supposed to have this trickle down effect to the frontline worker. I didn’t see anybody coming out and from the corporate side and saying, hey, we got all these tax breaks and we’re making a billion dollars a quarter so what we’re going to do for you is this. In fact, it was quite the opposite. We were in a fight to try and gain wages. 

(SOUNDBITE FROM UNION PROTEST)

HERSHIPS: So Andres, tell us what happened next. 

CABALLERO: So the mechanics’ union held protests and kept fighting corporate on the new contracts. There’s a video that was shot at LaGuardia Airport and in it the union confronted management. Gary is standing next to the mechanics union president John Samuelsen. American’s CEO Doug Parker wasn’t there that day, so Samuelsen is berating the number 2 guy at American, president Robert Isom.

JOHN SAMUELSEN: You’re making massive profits and we’re reeling. We’re reeling.

ROBERT ISOM: Believe me I will send people back to the table, there is no problem with that and I’ll tell you what, the rhetoric that says hey we’re gonna go to battle, we can’t live this way.

SAMUELSEN: You wanna make more than $3 billion and you don’t wanna do it off your back, I don’t see you giving away salary anytime soon, but you wanna strip our ability to take care of our livelihoods and take care of our children. 

ISOM: John, John. 

SAMUELSEN: You can put all the rationales you want about doing work in Asia, or fly to South America and do the work there and build a hangar in Brazil, you can do all of that you want you’re not gonna beat us. You’re not wearing a suit, but you’re not the first kinda smart, Ivy-league-ish guy that we’ve dealt with.

HERSHIPS: In January 2020, after four years of fierce negotiations, the mechanic’s union agreed on a contract. It included better pay, more time off, and a cap on American’s ability to outsource maintenance work. This was a big victory for Gary’s union.

PETERSON: Ultimately after several years we made those wages, but for four years they were putting that money into their pockets. So, again, how much of that did we really reap out of the tax break? And how much did the company actually keep pouring into their own coffers?

HERSHIPS: So what exactly had American Airlines been doing with the money it saved from its tax break? We’ll find out, after the break.

I want to recommend a great podcast, Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. Facts matter now more than ever. Every week Reveal exposes corruption, deception, malfeasance, and inequality. And they dig deep, like their recent eight-part series “American Rehab,” which uncovered tens of thousands of people desperately in need of help for their addictions. But instead of getting treatment, they were sent to work without pay, sometimes at big corporations. The New Yorker called the series riveting, urgent, and mind-bending. For some of the best reporting out there, subscribe to Reveal wherever you get your podcasts. 

ARNE ALSIN: I mean as soon as I heard the tax cut announcement, having been in the weeds and knowing what corporations do with it when they get their cash. It was throw up your arms, roll your eyes back in your skull. 

HERSHIPS: Arne Alsin is an accountant of 35 years. He founded Worm Capital, an investment management firm in Los Angeles. And he’s been following American Airlines for more than a decade now. 

ALSIN: I knew what they were going to do with this cash, which is send it away, away to the stock market for buybacks.

HERSHIPS: When a company does buybacks it means it’s repurchasing its own shares from the stock market. This reduces the number of shares and it makes the price of the remaining shares go up. Until the early 1980s, buying back shares with corporate money was considered borderline illegal because it was thought of as stock manipulation. 

CABALLERO: But in 1982 the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule that gave the green light for corporations to do stock buybacks. It’s something corporations do when they have extra cash on hands. In 2018 alone US corporations bought back more than $1 trillion in their own stock.  

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission filings, between 2014 and 2019, American Airlines spent nearly $12 billion on stock buybacks.

ALSIN: American Airlines executives, without asking shareholders, on their own went behind closed doors and decided five consecutive years to take out roughly 20% of the company’s value in cash. These guys decided in secret, presumably looking at their incentive compensation.

JIM CRAMER: So let’s check in with Doug Parker, the Chairman and CEO of American Airlines to hear more about how the company’s doing and where it’s heading. Mr. Parker, welcome back to Mad Money.

PARKER: Thanks Jim.

CRAMER: Well Doug, well obviously you think the stocks are certainly cheap because I understand you decided to take your pay in American stock.

PARKER: I did. Well, you know, look, one, as a CEO I think I should be compensated in the same currency that you are compensated in, which is our stock.

CRAMER: OK. 

PARKER: Second thing, I think it’s a great indication of how the industry has changed. The fact that an executive is willing to accept airline stock as a currency to be paid. 

CRAMER: Inconceivable.

PARKER: Yeah, no kidding. I wouldn’t have done it five years ago. But the reality is now we have an industry that’s a real business. And I don’t think there’s any chance that the stock is gonna be nearly as volatile as it’s been in the past. I think it’s a real currency and I’m happy to be paid in it. 

HERSHIPS: Since he became CEO of American Airlines in 2013 Doug Parker has taken home a total of $150 million from selling his American shares. Last year alone, Parker made $12 million. That is 195 times more than the median salary for a typical American employee. 

CABALLERO: Ultimately, the more buybacks American Airlines does, the more money its executives are able to make by selling their stock in the company. And as long as the economy and the stock market are strong, then the company could stay afloat. 

HERSHIPS: So to sum things up, American had been doing stock buybacks for years. And when the company got a big tax break from the 2017 law, it took the windfall and kept doing buybacks. It also invested in those new airplanes and buildings. But that was paid for with $24 billion in new debt. And all of this meant that American was not saving up for the unexpected. Doug Parker knew this, but he has a long history of shrugging it off. 

Here he is on C-SPAN way back in 2006, when he was CEO of US Airways. 

HOST: Doug Parker, do you worry about an avian flu epidemic and could the airline industry take another 9/11?

PARKER: We all worry about an avian flu epidemic, I’m not exactly certain what to do about it. My guess is we would all be working together as we did after 9/11 to figure out what we can do to save the industry. 

HOST: Do you see a government role in that?

PARKER: We’re all speculating as to what indeed, the severity of what we’re talking about, so if we got to something where yeah, people would not fly, certainly we would need some help. But I don’t think we’re heading into anything like that.

CABALLERO: The first time Deborah heard about COVID was while she was on a layover in Paris.

CNBC CLIP: We’re continuing to follow new developments of the spread of the mysterious coronavirus.

BBC CLIP: Three cases have been confirmed in France, that’s the first time the virus has been identified in Europe. 

VOLPE: And you have it in the back of your head saying, okay, well, we’ve been through SARS, we’ve been through the H1N, you know, OK. 

CABALLERO: By then it was already the end of January. She was in London when she started feeling sick.

VOLPE:Hacking, low grade fever, didn’t think anything of it. Two antibiotics later and a  friend of mine, she’s a nurse practitioner, she treats me and she’s like, you’re still coughing? I’m like, I can’t shake this thing.

CABALLERO: She was still functional so she continued to fly. There weren’t a lot COVID tests available yet, so we don’t know if she actually had the virus. But she was angry at the company’s lack of safety guidance and protocols. So far she has lost two fellow flight attendants to COVID. 

HERSHIPS: By March of this year, most international and domestic flights had been cancelled. People just stopped flying.

VOLPE: You get off the airplane and it is a ghost town. You see some people here but for the most part, you could just look down the concourse and not see any traffic whatsoever. 

HERSHIPS: By April the airline industry was operating at around 30 percent capacity and American Airlines was losing $70 million per day. Employees were also being offered early retirement and buyouts. 

2020 AMERICAN AIRLINES AD: It’s easy to be an airline when there are blue skies ahead, but in our 94 years we’ve weathered many hard times, coming out the other side always better, always stronger. 

PARKER: These times are challenging, like nothing any of us have ever seen. 

CABALLERO: As the economic crisis unfolded last April, American sent a video of Doug Parker to its customers. 

PARKER: This week we were fortunate to receive payroll support from the US Department of the Treasury. These funds will be used to support our team through the summer and into the fall, funding team member salaries and benefits and keeping American flying. 

HERSHIPS: The top four airlines combined had spent $45 billion on buybacks in the past five years. When the pandemic hit they lobbied the federal government for a bailout of nearly the same amount, $50 billion, which the Treasury approved. American got almost $11 billion dollars in the form of grants and almost half of it in a loan to be finalized later this year. More than any other airline. 

CABALLERO: But those government funds came with restrictions, like prohibiting the use of money on stock buybacks or dividends. Parker was asked about that in an interview with CNBC. 

HOST: Doug, they say that beggars can’t be choosers, but restrictions on buybacks, dividends, executive comp, the government warrants, do you see those as limiting in the year to come?

PARKER: If you find yourself in need of government assistance, I think it’s fair to say that until you’ve paid off the loans, for example if you choose to take loans that you don’t have stock buybacks, you don’t do dividends, that the money doesn’t flow to your executives, so that you have restrictions on executive compensation, we’re going to need to figure out ways around those. But those are absolutely fair things that we were asked to do, and we are certainly not complaining about them.

HERSHIPS: So even with billions from the government in pandemic aid money, as of this fall American is still in big trouble. The company is desperately trying to raise even more cash to pay off its debts and avoid bankruptcy.  

ALSIN: It did not help American Airlines that they spent billions on buybacks. It did not help the company at all. It did not help their employees.They didn’t pay off new airplanes, they didn’t contribute a lot of cash to this pension that they could have, so the pension funding is in question. 

HERSHIPS: So Andres, we’ve been focused, mostly focused on American employees. Tell us what this means.

CABALLERO: Yes. Besides employees now being in limbo, investors and shareholders also ended up losing. That includes long term investors most people might not usually think about, like public school teachers, firemen and women, and other public sector workers whose pensions or retirement funds are invested in American Airlines.  

ALSIN: If they think buybacks are good for Texas teachers and Florida teachers and California Teachers, please, executives! Come on out and explain why! I can tell you there is not a single benefit that they can point to. 

HERSHIPS: And according to Nobel Prize-winning economist and Joseph Stiglitz, neither buybacks nor the tax reform bill of 2017 have proven to be good for the economy. 

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Investment did not increase. Almost a trillion dollars went to share buybacks. Wages increased a minuscule amount. And growth by the time the pandemic rolled around, growth was already at an anemic level. And this in spite of the $1 trillion record, peacetime deficit for an economy with its unemployment as low as it is. So as an economist, I’d say it was a disaster. 

PETERSON: I believe over the last few years, they squandered away billions of dollars and didn’t look at this rainy day type situation. 

CABALLERO: This is Gary, again, the American Airlines mechanic and union rep. 

PETERSON: And that’s foolish to think that way. Growing up as a kid I was always taught to save money for that rainy day, not spend every dollar that I made, and I’ve done that my whole life. 

CABALLERO: I asked American for an interview and what the business logic behind its stock buybacks in the past several years was. They turned down the interview request but did say via email they spent more on capital investments and on workers than they did on buybacks in recent years. In the email they also state that: 

“No amount of a rainy day fund would have prepared American or any other airline for COVID-19 and the devastating impact it has had on demand for air travel.”

HERSHIPS: Joseph Stiglitz says that’s not true. And he says, it wasn’t just that airlines like American failed to prepare for a rainy day. 

STIGLITZ: Corporations were in a position to use that revenue to create buffers. But instead, the money went right out the door, leaving taxpayers now to pick up the tab for their lack of foresight.

The tax bill didn’t really set up the country well, it was badly designed. If we had had a tax bill that would have led to more investment, the consequences of putting the economy in stay for two, three months, four months, in this position of hold, we would have been a lot better off. But it didn’t do that. If we had said to the corporations, you can’t use that money to buy back your shares, then they would have had a larger buffer to protect themselves against what has now happened.

HERSHIPS: Here’s Gary the mechanic again.

PETERSON: It would have bought a lot of a lot of time. Especially in the environment, we’re in with what they did have on hand, you know, cash flow, just to know that extra money was available to them. And so we’re on the wrong side of that equation. And that’s because, as a worker, you have no say in what the executives decide.

CABALLERO: When I spoke to Deborah it was May and she was already worried about the possibility of layoffs. She has seniority, so she would not be among the first to get laid off, but she worries a lot about her co-workers. 

VOLPE: For those of us at this stage of our career, some people were looking to retire in the next year or two. That’s not going to happen if their 401Ks or their retirement is not where it needs to be. What does that mean for someone who’s on an extended medical leave dealing with cancer? Are they coming back to something?

I believe we will come out of this. It’s gonna look different.The financial stuff I’m going to figure it out on the backside because we’re gonna shrink. And to have that at this part of my career. I should be skating at this point. I shouldn’t be climbing uphill.

CABALLERO: Deborah took a couple of months off after losing two close friends mid-pandemic. She needed time to clear her mind and focus on her own health, but she was able to keep her job and she started flying again in October.

HERSHIPS: But not all American workers have been so lucky. The government aid to airlines covered partial worker salaries through the end of September. At the beginning of October, American Airlines furloughed about 20,000 workers, although it said that could be reversed if Congress is able to agree on a new aid package. In a letter to employees, Doug Parker wrote, “I am extremely sorry we have reached this outcome. It is not what you all deserve.” 

Next time on The Heist, the coronavirus hits. Small businesses are in crisis and the government says it’s stepping in to save the day with a program called PPP.

MATT GARDNER: It’s pretty clear that the PPP process was run in a way that pushed needy small businesses to the back of the line while prioritizing the influential. 

ANA RIVERA: Nobody reached out to me, nobody helped me.

HERSHIPS: Our episode today was reported by Andres Caballero. Our editor was Curtis Fox, with help from consulting editor Alison MacAdam and Center for Public Integrity’s Tax Project editor Allan Holmes. We had production help from Lucas Brady Woods, Brett Forrest, Camille Petersen, and Ali Swenson. Our theme music and original score by composer Nina Perry and performed by musicians Danny Keane, Dawne Adams, and Oli Langford. Our engineer is Peregrine Andrews. The Heist is executive produced by me and the Center for Public Integrity’s Mei Fong. 

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