Laura Sullivan | Michigan Radio
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Laura Sullivan

Note: An audio version of this story aired on NPR's Planet Money. Listen to the episode here.

Laura Leebrick, a manager at Rogue Disposal & Recycling in southern Oregon, is standing on the end of its landfill watching an avalanche of plastic trash pour out of a semitrailer: containers, bags, packaging, strawberry containers, yogurt cups.

None of this plastic will be turned into new plastic things. All of it is buried.

On the edge of the Mississippi River, the small historic city of Kimmswick, Mo. has an archaeological site with mastodon bones, Levee High Apple Pie at its famous Blue Owl Restaurant, and a volunteer mayor, Phil Stang.

What it doesn't have right now is money.

"They think I'm kidding but I'm not," Stang says. "I [will] have to go and do crazy electronic stuff like GoFundMe pages, or start a lemonade stand ... something."

Trish Pugh started an Ohio trucking company with her husband in 2015. Even for a small business, it's small — they had two drivers, counting her husband, until they let one go because of the coronavirus crisis.

And so her company applied for a loan under the first, $349 billion round of the Paycheck Protection Program, which the federal government had set up to rescue small businesses.

It didn't go well.

Banks handling the government's $349 billion loan program for small businesses made more than $10 billion in fees — even as tens of thousands of small businesses were shut out of the program, according to an analysis of financial records by NPR.

The banks took in the fees while processing loans that required less vetting than regular bank loans and had little risk for the banks, the records show. Taxpayers provided the money for the loans, which were guaranteed by the Small Business Administration.