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Fri Dec 4, 2020, 09:59 AM

Bellingcat: What Restaurants and Maps Can Tell us About Billions of Dollars of Covid-19 Relief Funds


I like it when this investigative journalism site shines its light on the US. France and the United Kingdom are also examined. They have the talent to snoop out a lot of information that some other news organizations don't follow.

In the wake of the first wave of coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns in early 2020, governments around the world scrambled funds to support furloughed workers and keep businesses afloat. These programs distributed a huge amount of money and succeeded in many of their goals. Not only that, they did so in rapid time. However, as governments have begun to release detailed information about relief aid, indications of geographic inequities in some programs appear to have emerged. In others, data appears to point toward interesting demographic and economic trends. To better understand these patterns, the Bellingcat Tech Team has created interactive maps of coronavirus aid programs in three countries: the United States, France and the United Kingdom, using sector-specific data to facilitate geographic comparisons where possible.

In the United States, data suggests the chaotic rollout of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) could have exacerbated existing inequality. For example, restaurants in neighborhoods in some cities, including New York and Los Angeles, appear to have had access to 20 times more funds than comparable neighbors. Restaurants were used in our analysis to make disparate regions of the US more comparable, because these businesses are common throughout the country. However, analysis suggests PPP inequalities extend beyond this sector. The vast differences in restaurants’ PPP uptake also appear to fall along existing racial and wealth divides in many neighborhoods, and are starkest in the most segregated cities.

A lot of excellent statistical analysis...

None of these correlations between aid access and demography have been intentionally designed into the Paycheck Protection Program, to our knowledge. Instead, it is likely that this is a consequence of existing inequities across the United States. Majority-minority neighborhoods have less access to banking services necessary in order to apply for aid, and immigrant communities where English is less frequently spoken may have had more difficulties accessing information and materials about the program.

Regardless of the intent or cause of the disparity, the consequences are clear: restaurants in whiter and wealthier neighborhoods across the United States have greater access to economic resources through the Paycheck Protection Program for recovering quickly from the coronavirus recession. While this analysis can only draw conclusions for restaurants, similar PPP trends for other broadly-distributed businesses such as hair salons and retail stores suggest that this inequity might extend throughout the larger economy. However, the United States also introduced other coronavirus aid programs, including Extended Unemployment Benefits (EB) and “Main Street Loans,” and this analysis does not necessarily generalize to these programs as well. Explore the patterns in their full detail in the interactive map below, hosted with the support of the Mapbox Community team.

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