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Oberweis Dairy, chaired by GOP House hopeful Jim Oberweis, got $5.6 million PPP loan

The Trump administration initially balked at releasing the names of companies getting major loans; under pressure the decision was reversed and the names of employers receiving $150,000 and up were disclosed.

State Sen. Jim Oberweis, a  Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times
State Sen. Jim Oberweis
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Jim Oberweis — the state senator who is a GOP House hopeful and who loaned his congressional campaign $1.1 million — is the chairman of Oberweis Dairy, a company taking a $5.6 million federal Paycheck Protection Program COVID-19 pandemic forgivable loan.

The dairy, famous for its ice cream, is in a rarified group of 255 Illinois companies getting between $5 million and $10 million in the PPP loans, the top amount, according to U.S. Treasury Department data released Monday.

The PPP loans were approved by bipartisan congressional votes in the wake of the coronavirus infections triggering government shutdown orders and an economic meltdown. To date, 202,157 Illinois employers received PPP funds.

The financial lifeline was intended to help employers keep people on the payroll and pay some overhead expenses. If used as intended, the loans do not have to be repaid.

An Oberweis spokesman told the Sun-Times the exact amount was $5.6 million.

Treasury records show Oberweis Dairy got the PPP loan on April 8 from CIBC Bank USA to cover 500 employees, the maximum amount allowed under the PPP program.

Oberweis is running against freshman Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., in the 14th Congressional District in a nationally watched race whose outcome could determine the party controlling the House. Oberweis is politically viable because of his ability to loan his various campaigns for state and federal office millions of his own dollars. Federal Election Commission records show Oberweis repaid himself $500,000 of his loan.

Oberweis is listed on his campaign disclosure as the chairman of Oberweis Dairy, headquartered in North Aurora, with a financial stake in the firm. His wife, Julie, receives an undisclosed salary from the firm, according to the campaign disclosure.

Oberweis said in a statement, “Oberweis Dairy applied for and was granted PPP funding to save the jobs and paychecks of its employees during this unprecedented time.”

While Oberweis is the chairman, a spokesman said he does not take a salary, his role is “advisory” and his son, Joe, runs the company.

The company said in a statement, “Without the PPP, at a minimum it would have been prudent to close all restaurants and some ice cream stores that we operate for some period of time,” and with the PPP funds no workers were laid off, furloughed or had their pay cut.

The PPP loans have been available to private companies as well as nonprofits.

Key to securing a jumbo PPP loan — especially in the first round — was having a solid relationship with a major bank. Lending institutions that fronted the money were paid a fee based on loan size and had less risk to worry about in dealing with familiar customers. The parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times received a $2.7 million PPP loan.

The Trump administration initially balked at releasing the names of companies getting major loans; under pressure the decision was reversed and the names of employers receiving $150,000 and up were disclosed.

Other Chicago area employers getting the top loans included:

  • Between $5 million and $10 million: Besides Oberweis Dairy, the American Academy of Pediatrics; Andy Frain Services, Inc.; Chicago Horticultural Society; and the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates the Brookfield Zoo.
  • Between $2 million and $5 million: Sterling Bay, developer on the controversial Lincoln Yards project, one of the largest in city history; Ada S. McKinley Community Services, Inc.; After School Matters, chaired by Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments; American College of Chest Physicians; American Library Association; Joffrey Ballet; Morton Arboretum; Museum of Contemporary Art; and Vienna Beef.

According to a Sun-Times analysis of all PPP loans in Illinois:

  • 174,745 were below $150,000.
  • 14,965 ranged from $150,000 to $350,000.
  • 8,487 ranged between $350,000 to $1 million.
  • 2,558 ranged between $1 million to $2 million.
  • 1,147 ranged from $2 million to $5 million.
  • 255 ranged from $5 million to $10 million.