As the pandemic forced widespread shutdowns in 2020, federal lawmakers faced a torrent of job losses. Millions of workers were being laid off from companies large and small, and millions more would lose their jobs with each passing week, causing indelible long-term damage to their financial image and the entire economy unless the government acted.

So, in addition to direct cash relief, the government rightly established the Paycheck Protection Program, a system created to provide employers with low-interest, easily forgivable loans that could be used to retain workers. It was largely non-targeted and had relatively lax standards, as getting money out the door as quickly as possible was crucial.

As a recent article In the Journal of Economic Perspectives, two things can be true at once: the PPP stopped the loss of millions of jobs, and the writers estimate that it preserved 2 to 3 million jobs per year (one job per year), and it ended in an incredibly regressive giveaway to the wealthy, with about 75% of the total $800 billion spending going to the richest fifth of American households. The reasons for this range from business owners and their creditors simply keeping most of the money to outright fraud.

The government can audit these loans for up to six years after the date of forgiveness, and must make sure to do so in what appear to be particularly egregious cases. However, the expansive nature of the criteria means that most of the money cannot be recovered, even when it did nothing to preserve jobs. However, the lessons learned can be applied in the future.

A rethought PPP could be targeted at companies that could demonstrate a certain percentage drop in revenue year over year. The authors also make a compelling case for incentivizing work sharing, that is, encouraging companies to spread the hours instead of laying off a few employees outright. Hopefully, a PPP-type intervention won’t be necessary anytime soon. If so, this time, apply the hard-earned lessons.