The federal government appears poised to release new aid for businesses and hospitals. It can’t afford to repeat what happened with the last bill.

It was hard to argue with the moves the federal government made to help small businesses as the economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent. Lacking the resources of major companies, many were pushed to the brink as states shut down.

It is hard to believe the gall with which those major companies acted, swooping in to gobble up those funds, ensuring small businesses struggled even more. The Associated Press dug into the numbers and found at least 75 publicly-traded companies received a portion of the Paycheck Protection Program, which offered $349 billion in emergency loans to keep small businesses afloat.

Major chains ate small businesses’ collective lunch. One of the most egregious offenders was Shake Shack, a $1.6 billion company. Shake Shack slurped up a $10 million loan only to announce it would return the money amid public outrage. Ruth’s Chris Steak House also got millions. So far, it’s hanging on to the money.

There’s no question the program was envisioned as a way to help small businesses survive. The intent was not for them to have to compete against corporate behemoths who leveraged their already eye-popping resources to swiftly complete a maze of application paperwork and scoop up loans before mom-and-pop shops could even finish downloading the documents. Gordon Gekko would have been proud.

Large companies have, unquestionably, been hurt by the sudden changes made necessary by the pandemic. But they also have far more resources with which to respond, and too many put those resources to use by raiding funds they knew weren’t meant for companies their size.

Politicians like to wax poetic about the value of small businesses. They speak in glowing terms about the value of mom-and-pop operations, how much they contribute to local communities and how they’re the soul of small business. They particularly enjoy doing so in an election year.

This is the opportunity to show their words are worth more than the breath they take up. Fix the problems with this next round, then put the spotlight on the first-round miscreants.

Let’s see how these major companies justify their actions when they’re called to explain before a Congressional committee.

Let’s see whether they can look America in the eye and explain their rapaciousness without flinching.

Let’s see whether they can do all that when their suited CEO is sitting beside a mechanic or restaurant owner whose life savings was wiped out because they couldn’t get a loan.

It may be too late to recoup the money taken by billion-dollar companies instead of those that were pinching pennies from day one. But it’s not too late to make them explain. It’s not too late to force them to face the public opprobrium they so richly deserve. Shame, after all, is an effective weapon.

These companies used their size and resources to bully small businesses out of the line. But none rival the federal government in terms of revenue or power.

Let’s see how much they like it when someone bigger comes calling.

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