Aspen Institute will return $8 million in PPP money

Staff report

The Aspen Institute is now part of a list that includes the Los Angeles Lakers, Nathan’s Famous Inc., Shake Shack and other companies and organizations that are returning coronavirus relief loans issued by the Small Business Administration in the aftermath of public backlash.

“In recent days we have talked with our stakeholders about our having received a loan through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP),” the Institute said in a statement posted to its website Thursday. “We believe that our application, which was made in the first week of the PPP, was consistent with the goals of the program. Upon listening to our communities and further reflection, we have made the decision to return the loan.

“The Aspen Institute is committed to doing our part to help the country and the world both recover from and rebuild after this global pandemic. We stand with all who are trying to make a difference in very difficult times.”

The statement, the result of an Institute board of trustees meeting Thursday, came after The Washington Post reported Wednesday the think tank received an $8 million loan to help retain its 430-person staff even though its endowment is worth $115 million.

The Institute previously told the Post, in defense of the loan, that 80% of its endowment is restricted and the board already had approved $7.5 million of it to be used for operational purposes.

The Post story quoted Aspen Institute fellow and moderator Dele Olojede, also a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, who said accepting the loan ran counter to the nonprofit’s mission.

“Those who purport to be values-based and public-spirited leaders cannot at the same time put self interest first, when there is so much human suffering and death,” he was quoted as saying before the Institute said it would return the money.

The Institute plays host to the Aspen Ideas Festival, a major summer event that attracts industry leaders from around the world. This year’s festival is canceled because of the pandemic.

The Institute is based in Washington, D.C., while it also operates from the Aspen Meadows campus.


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