As America prepares to get back to work, will some people be left behind? The Small Business Administration (SBA) has adopted rules for emergency COVID-19 loans that exclude otherwise eligible existing small businesses from relief solely because they are owned in part by individuals who have a criminal record. Given that at least 19 million Americans have a felony record, this overly broad exclusion threatens to unfairly deny a lifeline to deserving small businesses and their employees.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that was part of the $2 trillion relief legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Trump provides loans to small businesses that are forgivable if the business retains its employees during the period of at least eight weeks. While the legislation was vague on exclusions based on criminal background, the guidance adopted on April 2 by the SBA is overly broad, going far beyond excluding only those who have committed offenses related to financial dishonesty such as bank fraud or extremely serious offenses such as rape and murder.
Among those excluded are small business in which an owner of 20 percent or more is currently facing charges for any offense, is currently on community supervision, or has been convicted of a felony in the last five years. For several reasons, this disqualifying language casts a much wider net than necessary.
First, simply because an individual is facing charges does not mean they are guilty. Indeed, some 20 percent of those arrested ultimately have their case dismissed or are acquitted.
Additionally, the current criteria exclude existing small businesses that are owned in part by the 4.5 million Americans on community supervision, which encompasses probation and parole. Yet initiatives like the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) have helped many Americans with a record become successful business owners.