Eight members of Congress are calling on the Small Business Administration to investigate whether the operator of a luxury Santa Monica hotel and dozens of other properties properly spent tens of millions of dollars in pandemic relief funding.



a group of people that are talking on a cell phone: A group prays during an August demonstration supporting Margarita Santos, center, who was fired from her housekeeping job at the JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot hotel. The hotel's operator, Columbia Sussex, received tens of millions of dollars in PPP loans. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)


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A group prays during an August demonstration supporting Margarita Santos, center, who was fired from her housekeeping job at the JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot hotel. The hotel’s operator, Columbia Sussex, received tens of millions of dollars in PPP loans. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) and seven of her Democratic colleagues issued a letter Tuesday urging the SBA to investigate how a hotel conglomerate that owns or operates at least 50 hotels spent the money it received — as much as $63 million — from the Paycheck Protection Program.

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The group of lawmakers said in the letter that the PPP was designed to keep workers employed but that the hotel company, Columbia Sussex, accepted the funding through multiple affiliates and still laid off thousands of workers.

“Columbia Sussex appears to have taken advantage of these policies — borrowing taxpayer money at artificially low interest rates through multiple entities while laying off workers,” their letter to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza says.

Phone calls and emails to the Kentucky headquarters of Columbia Sussex were not returned Tuesday.

The PPP, part of the $2-trillion stimulus funding package approved by Congress in March, was promoted as a tool for keeping workers employed during the economic crisis. But experts, academics and union leaders told the Los Angeles Times that loopholes and flaws in the program allowed businesses to accept millions of dollars in forgivable loans without retaining or recalling most of their workers.

The program requires loan recipients to use at least 60%

Federal Reserve officials expressed concern at their most recent meeting that the US economic recovery could falter if Congress fails to approve another round of pandemic relief.

Minutes of the meeting showed that officials believe the economy was growing faster than expected. But they based their forecasts on expectations that Democrats and Republicans would resolve their differences and provide more economic aid, including expanded unemployment benefits and help for small businesses.

The minutes said that “most forecasters were assuming that an additional pandemic-related fiscal package would be approved this year, and noted that, absent a new package, growth could decelerate at a faster-than-expected pace in the fourth quarter.”

The prospects for a new package being passed before the Nov. 3 elections, however, have significantly diminished with President Trump’s decision to end negotiations with Democrats. Trump has instead proposed that Democrats approve individual rescue items, such as money for ailing airlines and another round of $1,200 checks for most adults, rather than a comprehensive aid package.

Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell warned in a speech Tuesday of potentially tragic consequences if Congress and the White House do not provide further assistance, saying “the [economic] expansion is far from complete.”

The minutes covered the Fed’s Sept. 15-16 meeting, in which officials left their key policy rate unchanged at a record low near zero and signaled that they expected to keep rates at ultra-low levels at least through 2023.

The Fed’s statement incorporated a policy change to allow inflation to rise above its 2 percent target for a period of time. That change is seen as allowing it to keep interest rates lower for a longer period.

The September statement was approved on a 10-2 vote. The minutes recognized large problems in trying to forecast the path of the economy.

“Participants continued to

The meeting minutes underscore how Fed leaders view another stimulus package — one that reaches households, businesses and local governments still on the brink — as essential to a strong and stable recovery.

At the meeting, Fed leaders updated their estimates on unemployment in the coming years to reflect a sense of optimism that people were returning to work faster than expected. But in many cases those projections factored in some measure of more fiscal aid, the prospects of which were thrown into chaos Tuesday after Trump abruptly called off negotiations before then continuing to push for more talks on narrower targeted aid.

“If future fiscal support was significantly smaller or arrived significantly later than they expected, the pace of the recovery could be slower than anticipated,” according to the Fed minutes.

Fed policymakers also warned that, while the Cares Act was crucial for providing benefits to millions of families, Congress’s “support so far for households, businesses, and state and local governments might not provide sufficient relief to these sectors,” the minutes read. Fed leaders pointed to “the extent and timing of additional fiscal support” as another source of uncertainty, along with the economic toll of school and small-business closures, as well as bankruptcies.

On Tuesday, Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell again called on Congress to keep up the support, especially for pockets of the economy that were not experiencing a rebound. Speaking at the annual meeting of the National Association for Business Economics, Powell said that too-little support could ultimately lay a foundation for household insolvencies, business bankruptcies and meager wage growth.

“By contrast, the risks of overdoing it seem, for now, to be smaller,” Powell said Tuesday. “Even if policy actions ultimately prove to be greater than needed, they will not go to waste.”

But on Tuesday afternoon,

As many as 50,000 airline workers could be furloughed starting Thursday morning after Congress failed to pass a last-minute deal to extend coronavirus relief aid to the embattled industry.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker confirmed late Wednesday that his airline would go ahead with 19,000 layoffs — or 14 percent of its pre-pandemic workforce — but said it would “reverse” them if an agreement were reached.

“Tomorrow, we will begin the difficult process of furloughing 19,000 of our hardworking and dedicated colleagues,” Parker wrote in a memo to staff members. “I am extremely sorry we have reached this outcome. It is not what you all deserve.”

United Airlines confirmed that it will cut thousands of jobs, telling employees in a letter: “We regrettably are forced to move forward with the process of involuntarily furloughing about 13,000 of our United team members. We implore our elected leaders to reach a compromise, get a deal done now, and save jobs.”

At stake are the jobs of close to 50,000 pilots, flight attendants, baggage handlers, counter agents and other airline and airport personnel.

A provision of the CARES Act, which President Donald Trump signed in March, covered nearly 75 percent of airlines’ payroll expenses, with the stipulation that airlines not let any workers go until Oct. 1. The provision expires Wednesday night.

House Democrats have proposed an overall coronavirus relief package that would include an extension of the protections, but Senate Republicans have yet to agree. Substantial progress on the deal could not be made before the time limit, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox Business on Wednesday night.

Talks on the larger package will continue Thursday, he said, adding, “There’s money for airlines.”

However, those talks could come too late for many in the industry.

“Tomorrow, tens of thousands of essential aviation

On Tuesday, September 29 at 12pm, the Task Force on Financial Technology will hold a hearing entitled, “License to Bank: Examining the Legal Framework Governing Who Can Lend And Process Payments In The FinTech Age”. The hearing will be led by Chairman Stephen Lynch (D-MA) with Ranking Member Tom Emmer (R-MN).

The Financial Services Committee (FSC), of which the Task Force on Financial Technology is part of, issued a background memorandum on the hearing. Citing Covid-19 as dramatically impacting the way Americans have not been able to bank in branches, use physical currency, and receive government benefits and loans, the Memo states, “…it is unclear whether most consumers understand the difference in protections and oversight between “banks” and “technology companies” when participating in financial activities, like sending money to a friend.”

The memo further explains how, since technology firms are offering financial services and yet do not have a comprehensive regulatory framework as banks do, the traditional lines of banking and commerce may be blurred. As a result, the FSC Memo states the hearing, “…will examine the legal framework and regulatory scope governing the oversight of traditional banks and other commercial businesses – especially technology companies – engaged in financial activity and the effect on consumer protection, financial stability, and the traditional separation of banking and commerce.”

The path which Fintechs can follow today are laid out by the FSC Memo as either, 1) becoming a fully chartered National Bank, 2) pursuing an OCC special purpose charter, or 3) seek FDIC insurance to be regulated as a state-chartered Industrial Loan Company (ILC). Recently, Square received conditional approval for an ILC