Over half a million subscribers follow YouTube family Cullen and Katie's journey to pay off $100,000 in debt. But some of them now feel betrayed that the creators may have put a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program towards that debt. 

Cullen and Katie Byington have been on YouTube for almost 10 years now, but it wasn’t until January 2020 that they opened up about their debt and refocused their family vlog on finances and budgeting. Then Covid hit. As the Dad Challenge Podcast pointed out in a video on Wednesday, February 3, Cullen and Katie were one of many family vlogging channels to receive a PPP loan as part of a government program to “help businesses keep their workforce employed during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis,” according to its website

In an Instagram Story, Katie acknowledged that their vlogging business received a loan last year, which in turn allowed her and Cullen to receive their normal paychecks. (Katie did not disclose whether they employ anyone else.) Meanwhile, they paid off $50,000 in 2020. Some of their viewers are uncomfortable with the fact that a channel they followed for relatable financial advice had the advantage of a $25,000 loan not all small businesses were able to receive, let alone everyday people who had to wait months just to receive $1,200 and then $600 stimulus checks. Some assert that the loan would have been better used to support businesses that had to close due to Covid restrictions, but still could have paid their employees. Cullen and Katie were able to run their channel , despite the pandemic.

Katie defended the loan in part by saying that their business took a hit in adsense money and brand deals due to Covid (the Dad Challenge Podcast suggested otherwise).

Whatever the exact circumstances, the extent of viewers' anger—Cullen and Katie disabled comments on all their videos—speaks to how content creation is still very much viewed as a personal, not professional, endeavour. (Many large corporations encountered backlash for taking PPP loans last year—wrongly, some have argued—but literal mom-and-pop businesses have yet to be subjected to the same kind of controversy.)

Cullen and Katie may be documenting their regular lives, but fellow creators know how much work goes on behind the scenes to deliver the videos. For viewers to acknowledge that, though, would shatter the relatability that draws them to the channel in the first place.