Data: Payroll loans aided thousands of Massachusetts groups

Boston (AP) — A handful of institutions with connections to the Kennedy family were among the more than 18,000 businesses, nonprofit groups and other organizations in Massachusetts awarded loans over $150,000 under the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

The Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, which runs programs for at-risk youth and is named after the former U.S. Attorney General and brother of President John F. Kennedy, was awarded between $2-$5 million, according to data the federal government released Monday.

U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, serves on the organization’s board. An aide to Kennedy said he's not compensated for the position.

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for The United States Senate, named after the long-serving Democratic senator and brother of Robert F. and John F. Kennedy was awarded between $350,000 and $1 million, according to the federal data.

Edward Kennedy’s widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, serves as president of the institute’s board. Emails seeking comment were sent to the two organizations.

The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, Inc., which manages a park that winds through downtown Boston, also received $350,000 -$1 million, according to the data. The park is named after the Kennedy family matriarch.

Edward Kennedy worked to help establish the park named after his mother. A representative of the organization confirmed it had received a loan.

Other organizations and businesses to receive loans, according to the data, including the Boston Ballet. the New England Aquarium, Legal Sea Foods and thousands of other restaurants, schools, construction companies, high tech firms, electrical contractors, museums and others.

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 the 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.

In Massachusetts, the data released included more than 18,000 loans over $150,000.