This week we posted updated data on loans backed by the Small Business Administration. The SBA 7a database has loan records going back to 1990 (prior years available on request); fields include the name and address of the business getting the loan, franchise and industry codes, the bank lending the money, the amount loaned, and (where applicable) whether the loan was paid in full or charged off. Visit the database page to buy the data or read the documentation.

Posting the data was the final step in the process that began all the way back in October when NICAR filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the SBA for the most recent loan data.

It was a request we had filed many times before using essentially the same language with a standard fee waiver request (we’re a nonprofit, we’re requesting the data in the public interest, etc.). But unlike previous years, when SBA approved a fee waiver for the data as a matter of course, this time we were slapped with $250 in fees.

When we inquired about the fees, we were told they were decided on a case-by-case basis and asked to provide a justification for a waiver. We thought we did just that by emailing documentation of past FOIA requests that received fee waivers from SBA. The agency’s response? The fee waiver justification–which was accepted for the same request in prior years–was “insufficient.”

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We opted to appeal the waiver to the SBA’s FOIA Office and figured we’d be getting that data for free in no time. A couple weeks later, the Acting Chief, Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Office at SBA emailed NICAR that the office would be responding directly after reviewing the relevant records. So far, so good.

It wasn’t until January we were notified of any progress on the request. That’s when FOI/PA Office said they were sending the waiver request back to the Office of Capital Access–the same office that had originally denied the waiver.

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About a week later, surprisingly, that office decided to grant the fee waiver and mail out the request using the same justification it had rejected three months earlier. The lesson here? When it comes to FOIA requests, be persistent: don’t accept fees or waiver denials, don’t take no for an answer. If you can afford the time, push back. And thanks for waiting so that we could take the time to fight this.

More importantly: IRE members now have access to updated data on federally-backed loans to small businesses across the country, including industry codes, lender information, amount loaned and other information.

WHAT’S IN IT?

The 7a program is the SBA’s most common loan program. It provides loans to small business owners who can’t obtain financing through traditional channels. The program operates through private-sector lenders who provide loans that are, in turn, guaranteed by the SBA. The SBA 7a program itself has no funds for direct lending or grants. The data contain information on the business getting the loan including address and industry code, the bank lending the money, the amount loaned, and (where applicable) whether the loan was paid in full or charged off.

WHAT FORMAT?

SBA 7a data comes in one tab-delimited text file, easily imported or linked in Access and other database managers. If you’d like something different, we’ll do our best to help you out. Email datalib@ire.org or call (573) 884-7711.

WHAT CAN I DO WITH IT?

You can identify the businesses in your area with loans backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, and find out which financial institutions are making those loans.

Journalists can use 7a data to explore repayment of SBA loans by businesses in their communities, find out which financial institutions are major SBA lenders and find out what types of businesses are getting the loans. The data can also help you investigate how the SBA works with state and local agencies to lend money to small businesses.

CONTACT THE DATA LIBRARY

For more information on the data go to https://www.ire.org/nicar/database-library/databases/sba-7a-business-loans/ or contact the Database Library at 573-884-7711 or datalib@ire.org.