But analyses of government data show that the lending program, which is overseen by the Small Business Administration, allowed many of the earliest funds to go to parts of the country that were not as hard hit by the coronavirus, as well as to a small number of companies seeking millions in assistance…

Businesses in Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota were among the biggest beneficiaries of the early aid when accounting for the number of people working for small businesses in each state, a Times analysis shows. All three states are below the national median for cases of the virus per capita, and none imposed statewide lockdowns as the outbreak began to spread nationwide.

One reason for the uneven distribution is because big banks were slow to lend when the program first began, in part because of bureaucratic delays, and they imposed rules that blocked many people seeking help. The 20 largest banks accounted for 41 percent of small-business lending throughout the country before the pandemic, but issued only 20 percent of the first-round loans, the Chicago and M.I.T. economists found.