A group of Republican senators is urging the Department of Justice to open an investigation into dozens of Planned Parenthood clinics that may have received a portion of the $80 million in potentially forgivable federal loans contained within the Paycheck Protection Program.
In a letter to Attorney General William Barr released Thursday, the lawmakers wrote: "These Planned Parenthood entities self-certified eligibility for these loans despite the clear ineligibility under the statutory text of the CARES Act," which established the PPP to aid small businesses. The senators said the nonprofit's loan applications were "fraudulent" and that submitting them could "trigger both civil and criminal penalties."
Planned Parenthood denies the accusations.
"Like many other local nonprofits and health care providers, some independent Planned Parenthood 501(c)(3) organizations applied for and were awarded loans under the eligibility rules established by the CARES Act and the Small Business Administration (SBA), which they met," Jacqueline Ayers, Planned Parenthood Federation of America's vice president of government relations and public policy, said a statement Wednesday.
Ayers added: "This is a clear political attack on Planned Parenthood health centers and access to reproductive health care. It has nothing to do with Planned Parenthood health care organizations' eligibility for COVID-19 relief efforts, and everything to do with the Trump administration using a public health crisis to advance a political agenda and distract from their own failures in protecting the American public from the spread of COVID-19."
The letter sent to Barr was signed by 27 of 53 Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney.
Fox News was first to report on some Planned Parenthood affiliates receiving PPP loans.
DOJ has not said publicly whether it will investigate the matter.
The PPP program itself has been criticized over a lack of transparency, and a group of news outlets, including ABC News, is suing the SBA for access to government records that show which companies and nonprofits have received loans.
Planned Parenthood declined to confirm to ABC News how many loans its affiliates had received or the total dollar amount of said loans. The SBA didn't immediately return a request for comment.
The SBA has notified at least one Planned Parenthood affiliate that it should return its PPP loan.
The Republican senators argued in their letter to Barr that the SBA's affiliation rules link Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its members, which means they're part of an entity too large to be considered a small business.
But SBA affiliation rules aren't black and white, and they've already caused significant confusion tied to PPP lending. That said, the SBA has said that "generally, affiliation exists when one business controls or has the power to control another," and that control "may arise through ownership, management, or other relationships or interactions."
More than 10,000 work at Planned Parenthood locations, including independent affiliates. Republicans are arguing that independent offices adhering to common bylaws constitutes a management agreement and therefore establishes impermissible affiliation, rendering individual facilities ineligible for PPP.
"In order to be a Planned Parenthood affiliate, you have to get approval of the parent board, the one that's located here in Washington, D.C., a parent board that is sitting on -- according to their own numbers, in 2018 -- close to half a billion dollars in net assets," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said Wednesday. "They just don't qualify under the affiliate rules. It's as simple as that. Leave aside all the other issues, they do not qualify. So they need to return the money, and if they did this knowingly they need to be held accountable. And whoever helped them do this knowingly needs to be held accountable."