Among the many federal efforts to prop-up the economy in the wake of government-mandated business closures was the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP.

Roughly $800 billion was shoveled into PPP, with the intention of keeping workers on payrolls, even if their workplace was closed. The obvious question: where did the money really go? According to new research, only a fraction actually went to workers earning a paycheck:

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provided small businesses with roughly $800 billion dollars in uncollateralized, low-interest loans during the pandemic, almost all of which will be forgiven. With 93 percent of small businesses ultimately receiving one or more loans, the PPP nearly saturated its market in just two months. We estimate that the program cumulatively preserved between 2 and 3 million job-years of employment over 14 months at a cost of $170K to $257K per job-year retained. These estimates imply that only 23 to 34 percent of PPP dollars went directly to workers who would otherwise have lost jobs; the balance flowed to business owners and shareholders, including creditors and suppliers of PPP-receiving firms. Program incidence was highly regressive, with about three-quarters of PPP funds accruing to the top quintile of households. This compares unfavorably to the other two major pandemic aid programs, enhanced UI benefits and Economic Impact Payments (i.e. stimulus checks). PPP’s breakneck scale-up, its high cost per job saved, and its regressive incidence have a common origin: PPP was essentially untargeted because the United States lacked the administrative infrastructure to do otherwise.

In other words, the bulk of PPP money didn’t support payrolls at all, but it did help those who were already well-off do even better.