Collected resources on record restrictions for small business relief

On this page, we have collected a variety of materials on the restrictions related to arrest or conviction imposed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) on small business owners seeking relief under the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.  Included are letters from legislators and major organizations, articles by us and by others, and official documents related to this issue.  We hope these resources will assist those working to ensure that much-needed relief is made fairly available to small business owners and their employees.  We continue to update this page with new resources (last updated May 27).

On April 21, Secretary Mnuchin seemingly closed the door on the SBA making any changes to its exclusionary policies at this time, but we encourage him to reconsider.  But there is no reason why the SBA cannot at any time rescind the new restrictions in its Interim Final Rule for the Paycheck Protection Program, as we advocate with 25 other organizations in our public comment on the SBA’s Interim Final Rule.  We also encourage Congress to curtail the SBA’s authority to unfairly deny relief to small businesses struggling to survive this crisis.

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New efforts to channel federal relief to small business owners with a record

After Congress authorized hundreds of billions of dollars in funds for small business relief during COVID-19, the Small Business Administration (SBA) imposed restrictions on applicants with an arrest or conviction history.  These barriers, neither required nor contemplated by Congress, impede access to the two major relief programs for small businesses, nonprofits, and independent contractors during the COVID-19 crisis.  The two programs are the newly created Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the ramped-up Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.

Three developments within the past week signal major pushback against or the possible reversal of at least some of these burdensome restrictions, which unfairly deny relief to worthy applicants.

First, at least 65 organizations submitted five public comments in opposition to the SBA’s criminal history restrictions for PPP relief.  Our organization joined 25 other groups in submitting a comment asking the SBA to rescind or modify the regulation on legal and policy grounds, citing recent court decisions that suggest the SBA may lack authority to impose record-based disqualifications at all.

These comments are the most recent expression of what has become a wave of bipartisan opposition to the SBA’s exclusionary policies, and growing coverage of the issues in the press.  We have been collecting relevant documents on our small business relief resource page.

Second, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin signaled in a recent conversation with key Senators that he may be open to easing restrictions on PPP applicants with felony records from the last five years.

Third, the HEROES Act, passed by the House on Friday, includes provisions that would significantly constrain the SBA’s authority to deny applicants based on a record of arrest or conviction in both the PPP and EIDL programs.  If enacted into law, these provisions would mark a turning point in how federal law deals with discrimination based on criminal record.

We discuss these developments in detail after the jump.  Read more

Mnuchin defends record restrictions for SBA stimulus loans

We have written much in recent days about how the SBA has imposed new restrictions on participation in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) by small business owners with a record of arrest or conviction.  We were therefore surprised to hear Secretary Mnuchin at the White House press briefing yesterday assert that the new SBA rules are actually more favorable to this population than the old ones.  That is simply not true.

Prior to enactment of the CARES Act, the SBA’s rules for its 7(a) loan program—of which the PPP is the newest part—disqualified only people with open criminal cases.  People with past records were subject to an individual evaluation.  In launching the PPP, the SBA imposed entirely new mandatory disqualifications that were neither part of SBA’s preexisting regulations nor required by the CARES Act.  New PPP rules and policies prohibit loans to any small business owner who, in the past five years, had a felony conviction, plea, or was placed on probation, parole, or diversion, even without a conviction.

Yet at a press conference yesterday following Senate approval of additional PPP funds, Mnuchin claimed exactly the opposite.  Responding to a question about the President’s comment the day before that he would look into the issue of people with records being denied access to small business loans, the Secretary stated that he had “worked with the White House” to “specifically design” the PPP program to reflect criminal justice reform efforts led by Jared Kushner and others in the Trump Administration.  As a result, he said, the new five-year disqualification period is “significantly shorter than what had been done before . . . . There were a lot of people who wouldn’t have had access previously and we changed those regulations.”  (The clip is here, starting at 7:38; a transcript is below.)

The Secretary’s explanation is so wildly off the mark that it is hard to believe he was simply misinformed.  More likely, he was reporting on how the SBA’s 7(a) loan program has been administered in practice, unwittingly revealing an unwritten policy of categorical exclusion in spite of formal policies calling for individual review.  That peek at how a risk-averse bureaucracy actually operates out of the public eye would be no surprise to people who have experienced it.

In the run-up to the drafting of the new stimulus bill, several bipartisan coalitions and policy experts urged Congress and the SBA to ensure that  justice-involved people who have started small businesses—and their employees—can obtain stimulus funds.  But Mnuchin yesterday seemed to shut that door: “For now, we’re not going to do that.”

We strongly encourage the Secretary to take another look, and to do it quickly, before the new PPP funds are authorized and distributed.  As Marc Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation wrote in this space yesterday, “During this trying time, the SBA must reexamine these regulations to ensure that small businesses that made the most of one second chance don’t have it taken away through no fault of their own.”

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Second Chance Small Businesses Deserve Another Chance

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.

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Bipartisan coalition calls on SBA to roll back record-related restrictions in COVID-19 small business loan programs

On April 17 a diverse bipartisan group of civil rights, advocacy, and business organizations, including CCRC, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and SBA Administrator Carranza expressing concern over the restrictions imposed by the SBA on people with a record of arrest or conviction under two programs recently authorized by Congress in response to the COVID-19 crisis.  The letter points out that these unwarranted restrictions on loan programs intended to aid small businesses and non-profits will have a significant and detrimental impact in communities across the country, and a particularly harsh effect on minority business owners and employees who are disproportionately affected by the criminal legal system as a result of institutional discrimination.  It urges that federal relief be made equitably accessible to all who need it.

The letter describes how the SBA’s program restrictions based on record are

  • unnecessary and confusing
  • inconsistent with Congress’ intent in enacting the CARES Act
  • overbroad and unfair
  • racially discriminatory

In conclusion, the letter urges the SBA to take the following steps:

  • At a minimum, bring the record restrictions for PPP and EIDL programs in line with those that applied to Section 7(a) and 7(b) loans under regulations adopted prior to enactment of the CARES Act.
  • Relax existing rules and policies that restrict access to PPP or EIDL financial assistance for people with a record in the urgent circumstances presented by the pandemic, in line with the purposes of the CARES Act.
  • Ensure that the application forms for SBA financial assistance accurately reflect the eligibility requirements and are written in a clear manner.

An Appendix to the letter describes how the new rules and policies governing the Payroll Protection Program are more restrictive than those governing the 7(a) program generally, and how barriers based on arrest or conviction may also disqualify people with any sort of a record from loans under the EIDL program authorized under the SBA’s existing 7(b) disaster loan program.

The letter —available in PDF and reprinted below – was sent by the following organizations:

American Civil Liberties Union
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
Collateral Consequences Resource Center
Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
Drug Policy Alliance
FreedomWorks
Georgia Justice Project
Interfaith Action for Human Rights
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana
Justice Action Network
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Employment Law Project
Public Interest Law Center
Reproductive Justice Inside
Safer Foundation
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
Women Against Registry

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Organizations call on Congress to remove record-related barriers to small business relief

A bipartisan group of civil rights, advocacy, and business organizations, including CCRC, are calling on Congress to take immediate action to remove barriers based on arrest or conviction history for small business owners seeking COVID-19 federal relief.  This is an issue we have been covering in depth in recent posts.  This call to action—available in PDF and reprinted below—is issued by the following organizations (with additional sign-ons welcome; contact us here):

American Civil Liberties Union
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
Collateral Consequences Resource Center
College & Community Fellowship
Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
#cut50
Drug Policy Alliance
FreedomWorks
Georgia Justice Project
Interfaith Action for Human Rights
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana
Justice Action Network
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Main Street Alliance
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Employment Law Project
Out For Justice
Public Interest Law Center
Reproductive Justice Inside
Root & Rebound
Safer Foundation
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
Women Against Registry

*Note: the letter was originally issued on April 10 and was last updated on April 17.

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Federal judge certifies class for landmark Florida felony voting trial

The monumental felony voting rights case in Florida moves another step forward, expanding in scope.  On Tuesday, the federal trial judge overseeing the case certified a class of all persons who have served sentences for felony convictions, who would be eligible to vote in Florida but for unpaid court debt.  With the trial scheduled to begin via remote communication on April 27, the decision enables the court to issue a ruling on the merits in time for the November election that would apply to the entire class of several hundred thousand (or more) potential Florida voters.

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Will restrictions on banking jobs be relaxed for people with a record?

More than two dozen organizations dedicated to improving employment opportunities for people with a criminal record have written to the FDIC urging that it give regulated financial institutions greater latitude to hire qualified people without having to ask the FDIC’s permission.  The occasion is the FDIC’s proposal to reduce to a formal rule its longstanding policy on employment of convicted individuals by banks, a proposal that suggests the FDIC may be open to giving banks more hiring autonomy by relaxing several controversial provisions.  For 20 years, the FDIC has kept a tight grip on banks, requiring them to obtain a waiver before they may hire anyone with a record even in an entry-level non-professional position.  In operation, this policy has been an effective bar to bank employment for most people with a conviction record (and even for some who have never been convicted).

The letter, organized by the National Employment Law Project and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, points out that FDIC’s exclusionary policy is not required by its enabling statute, and urges the agency to bring its policy on hiring waivers into line with national efforts to further reintegration, in several different ways, some of which are discussed below.  The letter cites the bipartisan federal Fair Chance Act and corresponding reforms in states across the country (as reported by CCRC), as well as many letters from bank industry leaders urging the FDIC to relax its rigid policy that has frustrated efforts to diversify the financial sector’s work force.

The comment below provides some background for the FDIC’s proposal, and comments on where some relaxation of its present policy is likely.  It concludes with a note about the generally confusing and inconsistent treatment of state relief mechanisms like expungement and pardon in federal laws and regulations, suggesting that this is an area sorely in need of further study and proposals for reform.

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COVID-19: State-by-state resources on how to use the pardon power

At this time of pandemic, we have been following the discussions of how jail, prison, and immigration detention conditions are highly concerning, including the very useful collection of links provided by Professor Doug Berman, the demands published by advocacy organizations, and the collection of policy responses by the Prison Policy Initiative.  We agree that every available legal mechanism must be enlisted to secure the release of prisoners and detainees who pose little or no threat to public safety, and whose health and safety are themselves severely threatened by their enforced captivity.  This includes the great constitutional powers given to governors and pardon boards.  We therefore commend our newly revised pardon resources to advocates and policy makers to support their advocacy and action.

While our pardon-related research focuses primarily on how the power is used to restore rights and status to those who are no longer in prison, much of our information about how the pardon process is structured and operates is relevant to how the power might be used (or is already being used) to commute prison sentences during the pandemic.  Our revised pardon resources are part of a major revision of the CCRC Restoration of Rights Project, not only to make sure its information is current in light of the many recent changes in the law, but also reorganizing and revising its resources for clarity and easier access.  In the process, we have updated and revamped our state-by-state material on how the pardon process operates in each jurisdiction, noting that the process has become more regular and productive in a few states in the past several years.

Our 50-state pardon comparison is organized into four sections:

  • Section 1 provides a chart comparing pardon policy and practice across jurisdictions.
  • Section 2 lists jurisdictions by frequency and regularity of their pardon grants.
  • Section 3 sorts jurisdictions by how the administration of the power is structured.
  • Section 4 provides state-by-state summaries of pardon policy and practice, with links to more detailed analysis and legal citations.

We hope this information will be helpful to advocates across the country as we work to keep all people safe and healthy, including those in our prisons and jails.

New Jersey steps out as Reintegration Champion of 2019

Editors’ note: CCRC recently released its report on 2019 criminal record reforms, which recognized New Jersey as the “Reintegration Champion” of 2019, for having the most consequential legislative record of any state in the past year.  The following comment describes New Jersey’s laws enacted in 2019.  New Jersey’s various restoration of rights laws are further described in the state’s profile in the CCRC Restoration of Rights Project.

In December 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law S4154, now L.2019, c.269, as part of his Second Chance Agenda.  The law is a strong step towards criminal justice reform, and places New Jersey on the map as a leader in expungement policy.  Along with easing access to the existing expungement process,  it creates a new “clean slate” system that provides for expungement of all but the most serious violent offenses after ten years. It additionally sets in motion a process aiming to automate all clean slate expungements.  The substantive provisions of the law are set to go into effect on June 15, 2020, and we anticipate a large increase in expungements following its implementation.

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