Applying for an SBA loan with a criminal record

*UPDATE (5/20/20):  “New efforts to channel federal relief to small business owners with a record”

*UPDATE (4/27/20):  We have now collected a range of resources relating to this issue, including articles, letters, and official documents in one place.

*UPDATE (4/3/20): As we discuss in depth in our new post, the SBA has released a new set of criminal history standards for the “Paycheck Protection Program” (different than those previously published and covered in our 4/1/20 update below).  First, the SBA has posted an Interim Final Rule for this program on its website, which states (p. 7):

You are ineligible for a PPP loan if, for example:

i. You are engaged in any activity that is illegal under federal, state, or local law …. iii. An owner of 20 percent or more of the equity of the applicant is incarcerated, on probation, on parole; presently subject to an indictment, criminal information, arraignment, or other means by which formal criminal charges are brought in any jurisdiction; or has been convicted of a felony within the last five years;

The SBA also has published a new application form, effective April 3, 2020, with more restrictive criminal history standards than those published in the Interim Final Rule.  The form asks two questions regarding criminal history; a “Yes” answer to either question is disqualifying:

  • Is the Applicant (if an individual) or any individual owning 20% or more of the equity of the Applicant subject to an indictment, criminal information, arraignment, or other means by which formal criminal charges are brought in any jurisdiction, or presently incarcerated, or on probation or parole?
  • Within the last 5 years, for any felony, has the Applicant (if an individual) or any owner of the Applicant 1) been convicted; 2) pleaded guilty; 3) pleaded nolo contendere; 4) been placed on pretrial diversion; or 5) been placed on any form of parole or probation (including probation before judgment)?

*Update (4/1/20): SBA has released a sample form, effective March 31, 2020, for stimulus 7(a) loans, now called the “Paycheck Protection Program.”  The form asks two questions regarding criminal history, to be answered by owners with greater than 20% ownership stakes, and a “Yes” answer to either question is disqualifying:

  • Are you presently subject to an indictment, criminal information, arraignment, or other means by which formal criminal charges are brought in any jurisdiction, or presently incarcerated, on probation or parole?
  • Within the last 7 years, for any felony or misdemeanor for a crime against a minor, have you: 1) been convicted; 2) pleaded guilty; 3) pleaded nolo contendere; 4) been placed on pretrial diversion; or 5) been placed on any form of parole or probation (including probation before judgment)?

Loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are a key resource for small businesses fighting to survive during this pandemic.  SBA loans are generally loans provided by private lenders and guaranteed by the federal government.  The $2+ trillion stimulus package (the CARES Act) signed into law today, includes more than $300 billion in funding for new SBA loans called the “Paycheck Protection Program,” some of which are eligible for forgiveness.

These loans are to be provided under SBA’s primary loan program, the 7(a) loan program, but they increase eligibility for 7(a) loans, extend their allowable uses, and allow for loan forgiveness, among other provisions.  (See H.R. 748, sec. 1102; 15 U.S.C. 636(a)).  Notably, a Paycheck Protection Loan may be used—in addition to already-allowable uses under 7(a)—for payroll support (including paid sick, medical, or family leave, and group health care benefit costs during leave), employee salaries, mortgage payments, rent, utilities, and any other debt incurred before February 15, 2020.  See H.R. 748, sec. 1102.  Further, for all 7(a) loans made between February 15, 2020 and June 30, 2020, loaned funds would be eligible for forgiveness if used for payroll costs (with a couple of exceptions), and certain other expenses to maintain “payroll continuity” during a four-month period.  A business must submit certain documents to apply for forgiveness, and the forgiveness amount is reduced if the number of employees or their compensation has been reduced.  Se H.R. 748, sec. 1106.

In this post, we explore considerations for people with a criminal record who wish to apply for a 7(a) small business loan, including the “Paycheck Protection Program” loans that will be funded through the CARES Act.  We also discuss disaster loans for small businesses in areas severely impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19), which the SBA is already making available.

After reviewing existing SBA loan eligibility rules and vetting policies for 7(a) applicants, we have questions about the extent to which these new loans will be available to people with a criminal record.  Generally, the SBA excludes any business with a principal who is on probation, parole, or similar form of supervision; or who is currently facing any charges.  And while a closed criminal case is not automatically disqualifying, SBA requires that every 7(a) applicant’s principals be “of good character,” and conducts a character evaluation that for people with a felony conviction, certain misdemeanor convictions, or a recent case, requires a full FBI background check before loan funds may be approved.  This evaluation specifically requires disclosure of expunged convictions and certain non-conviction records.  Moreover, if a person has not completely satisfied a sentence “and other conditions of the court,” they are ineligible for a loan.  Certain broad language in the CARES Act suggests that the SBA might not impose eligibility requirements that would apply to 7(a) loans in normal times, including ineligibility due to an open criminal matter or lack of “good character.”  We hope that would be the case, given the urgent need for relief and the considerable barriers that people with records already face in the economy even in the best of times.  We will look for guidance from the SBA as to how it will interpret this language.  [See the updates at the top of this post.]

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Model law proposes automatic expungement of non-conviction records

An advisory group drawn from across the criminal justice system has completed work on a model law that recommends automatic expungement of most arrests and charges that do not result in conviction.  Margaret Love and David Schlussel of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center served as reporters for the model law.  It is available in PDF and HTML formats.

“Many people may not realize how even cases that terminate in a person’s favor lead to lost opportunities and discrimination,” says Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and one of the advisors of the model law project.  “Over the years, my legal aid program has seen thousands of cases where non-convictions cost people jobs.”

In proposing broad restrictions on access to and use of non-conviction records, the project aims to contribute to conversations underway in legislatures across the country about how to improve opportunities for people with a criminal record.  Already in 2019, states have enacted more than 130 new laws addressing the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction.  The group regards its model as the first step in a broader law reform initiative that will address conviction records as well.

Law enforcement officials make over 10 million arrests each year, a substantial percentage of which do not lead to charges or conviction.  Records of these arrests have become widely available as a result of digitized records systems and a new commerce in background screening and data aggregation.  These checks often turn up an “open” arrest or charges without any final disposition, which may seem to an employer or landlord more ominous than a closed case.

Very few states have taken steps to deal with the high percentage of records in repositories and court systems with no final disposition indicated.  Paul McDonnell, Deputy Counsel for New York’s Office of Court Administration and a project advisor, noted: “Criminal records that include no final disposition make it appear to the untrained eye that an individual has an open, pending case, which can have serious results for that person. New York has recently made legislative progress in addressing this problem, though more can be done.”

Current state and federal laws restricting access to and use of non-conviction records have limited application and are hard to enforce.  Eligibility criteria tend to be either unclear or restrictive, and petition-based procedures tend to be burdensome, expensive, and intimidating.  In recent years, lawmakers and reform advocates have expressed a growing interest in curbing the widespread dissemination and use of non-convictions, leading some states to simplify and broaden eligibility for relief, reduce procedural and financial barriers to access, and in a handful of states to make relief automatic.

Rep. Mike Weissman, a Colorado State Representative and model law project advisor, noted that Colorado has recently overhauled its laws on criminal records with broad bipartisan support.  “It is heartening to see similar reforms underway in other states, both red and blue, as well.  I commend the practitioners and researchers who helped formulate the model law for illustrating avenues for further progress in reducing collateral consequences.”

The model law would take this wave of criminal record reforms to a new level.  It recommends that expungement be immediate and automatic where all charges are terminated in favor of an accused.  Uncharged arrests should also be automatically expunged after a brief waiting period, as should dismissed or acquitted charges in cases where other charges result in conviction.  Cases that indicate no final disposition should also be expunged, unless there is indication that they are in fact pending.

The model law also recommends that expunged non-conviction records should not be used against a person in a range of criminal justice decisions, including by law enforcement agencies.  It would prohibit commercial providers of criminal background checks from disseminating expunged and dated non-conviction records, and civil decision-makers from considering them.

David LaBahn, President of the national Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, indicated that organization’s support for the model law, stating that the collateral consequences of non-convictions “do not serve to make the community safer,” and that “the current structures in place to expunge a non-conviction record can be confusing and difficult for the layperson to navigate alone.”

This model law sets the stage for jurisdictions to address record relief for convictions more generally, and its structure and principles can be brought to bear on that important work.

The Collateral Consequences Resource Center organized this model law project.  An early draft of the model law was discussed at an August 2019 Roundtable conference at the University of Michigan that was supported by the Charles Koch Foundation.  The model law report was supported by Arnold Ventures.

Read the model law in PDF or HTML.

California poised to become third state to adopt “clean slate” record relief

On September 23, the California legislature sent AB 1076 to California Governor Gavin Newsom, who has until October 13 to sign or veto this potentially transformative legislation.  If enacted, AB 1076 would make California the third state (after Pennsylvania (2018) and Utah (2019)) to authorize “clean slate” record relief, a direction to authorities to seal certain arrest and conviction records automatically. (Illinois, New York, and California have enacted automatic relief for certain marijuana convictions, and several states have automatic relief for non-convictions.)  AB 1076 creates a parallel eligibility scheme that overlaps but is not exactly coincident with the petition-based system, as well as a new procedure for automatic relief.  The specific provisions are described generally below, and more fully after the break.

AB 1076 would not modify eligibility for relief under California’s existing scheme of judicial remedies for people with criminal records, via sealing as well as dismissal and set-aside.  Rather, effective January 1, 2021, it would create a new process obviating the requirement of an individually-filed petition or motion in most cases.  If this bill is signed into law, California would break new ground in becoming the first state to extend automatic “clean slate” relief to felony convictions (other than for marijuana possession).

A less-noted but significant feature of AB 1076 is its expansion of the effect of relief for conviction records:  it provides for non-disclosure of records of convictions that have been dismissed or set aside, whether automatically or by petition, and makes this provision applicable both to court records (effective February 1, 2021) and to records in the state repository (effective January 1, 2021), except in certain specified circumstances where disclosure is mandated by law.  As it is, and notwithstanding the widespread use of the term “expungement” to describe its general relief scheme for convictions, California has no law authorizing limits on public access to most conviction records, whether held by the court or by the state repository.  This would change in 2021, if this law is enacted.  (Most non-conviction records are now eligible for sealing by petition under California law.)  Note that, like most state repositories, California’s repository permits disclosure only to government agencies and specified private entities, so that the new limits apply within the class of otherwise authorized repository users.

The sponsors of AB 1076 emphasize that making relief automatic without the need for individual action will significantly reduce “barriers to employment and housing opportunities for millions of Californians.”  They point to the key findings of J.J. Prescott and Sonja Starr’s 2019 study of record-sealing in Michigan: 1) people who had their conviction records sealed tended to have improved employment outcomes and lower recidivism rates than the general population; but 2) only a small percentage (6.5%) of those individuals eligible for set-aside and sealing actually applied, likely because of the complexity and burdens of filing a petition for relief with the court.  While no comparable study has been done for California, experience with that state’s marijuana-sealing law suggests that the low “take-up” rate is similar to the one Prescott and Starr found in Michigan.

If California’s new law is enacted, beginning in 2021 the state will automatically grant relief for many arrests not resulting in conviction, for infraction and misdemeanor convictions, and for some less serious felony convictions.  For eligible non-convictions—misdemeanor and some felony arrests—sealing will become automatic.  (However, a significant set of felony arrests not leading to conviction are excluded, as discussed below, although most of these dispositions remain eligible for petition-based relief.)  For eligible convictions, dismissal and set-aside will be automatic provided that a number of additional eligibility requirements are satisfied, including that a person must not be required to register as a sex offender, or be currently subject to prosecution, supervision, or incarceration for any offense.  Prosecutors and probation officers may object to automatic conviction relief in individual cases on “based on a showing that granting such relief would pose a substantial threat to the public safety,” and such an objection may be tested in a court hearing.

A major shortcoming of AB 1076 — in contrast to the “clean slate” laws enacted in Pennsylvania and Utah—is that its automatic relief is prospective only.  That is, relief is automatic only for arrests and convictions occurring after the law’s effective date.  Those with arrests and convictions occurring before 2021 would still have to apply to the court for relief.  Though the original bill had applied retroactively, the Assembly amended the bill to exclude arrests and convictions occurring before January 1, 1973, and then the Senate further amended it to exclude those occurring before January 1, 2021.  Presumably these changes were based on financial and logistical considerations.  The annual cost for the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and courts to carry out the final bill is estimated to total between about $2 and $5 million each year.  Moreover, the bill’s effective date, January 1, 2021, is specifically subject to an appropriation in the annual budget, and the State’s Department of Justice has indicated it “would need the implementation date to be delayed to July 1, 2023 for proper implementation.”  Despite challenges in implementation, we hope that, as the new automated system is developed, it will be feasible to extend relief to records predating 2021.

Of course, as noted, the provisions providing for non-disclosure of conviction records would apply to all cases dismissed or set-aside, without regard to when or by what process this relief was granted.

We will now describe in detail California’s clean slate legislation, which would add two new sections to the Penal Code, 851.93 and 1203.425, dealing with arrests and convictions, respectively, and amend the section of the Penal Code that deals with state records systems, 11105.

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Starr and Prescott publish groundbreaking empirical study of expungement

Professors Sonja B. Starr and J.J. Prescott of Michigan Law School have released the first-ever broad-based empirical study of the effects of a state law limiting public access to criminal records.   CCRC’s reports have noted the lack of empirical research to inform policies aimed at promoting reentry and reintegration for people with a criminal record—something this study of Michigan’s set-aside law begins to correct.  As its authors observe, “Despite the considerable legislative ferment and the excitement that surrounds ‘clean slate’ initiatives in the civil rights and criminal justice reform worlds, what has been missing from the debate is hard evidence about the effects and true potential of conviction expungement laws.”  A reason for this, as the authors also note, is that by definition criminal records that are the subject of sealing or expungement relief are often unavailable to study.  [Note:  In the summer of 2019, the study was accepted for publication in the Harvard Law Review.]

Using a data-sharing agreement with multiple Michigan state agencies, Starr and Prescott completed an extensive statewide analysis of expungement of criminal convictions in Michigan over the course of decades.  Their analysis reveals three key findings:

  • Uptake:  Just 6.5% of those eligible for expungement successfully complete Michigan’s application process within five years of eligibility.
  • Recidivism:  Expungement recipients “have extremely low subsequent crime rates, comparing favorably to the general population—a finding that defuses a common public-safety objection to expungement laws.”
  • Employment:  Expungement receipts see a “sharp upturn” in wage and employment: wages go up on average by 25% within two years, driven mostly by “unemployed people finding jobs and very minimally employed people finding steadier or higher-paying work.”

These conclusions just about cover the waterfront of findings we would most like to see about laws that limit public access to criminal records.  Looking at them in reverse order, Starr and Prescott find that expungement is valuable in economic terms for those who receive this relief, and improvements in their economic status will in turn benefit their families and communities.

They also find that those who benefit from expungement present no particular threat to public safety, whether because recipients of expungement are self-selected criminal justice success, because the courts that grant them relief take their likelihood of reoffending into account, or because expungement itself does not tend to increase recidivism risk (and in fact may reduce it).

Finally, and perhaps most disturbingly, few of the people who are intended beneficiaries of Michigan’s expungement law actually obtain this relief, either because they don’t apply for it or because their applications for expungement are not approved.  The authors find six reasons that account for this “uptake gap” (which is greater for people with misdemeanors than felonies):

  • lack of information about the availability of relief;
  • administrative hassle and time constraints;
  • cost (including court filing fees, lost wages, and transportation costs);
  • distrust and fear of the criminal justice system;
  • lack of access to counsel; and
  • insufficient motivation to remove conviction.

In addition, while not a part of the “uptake gap” strictly speaking, the authors note that “every advocate that we spoke to also emphasized the stringency of the eligibility requirements, which in their view exclude a great many worthy candidates.”  (A person must have no more than one felony conviction and no more than two misdemeanor convictions in order to be eligible for “set-aside” under what is commonly known as the “general expungement statute.”  In contrast to most states, however, most felony convictions are eligible for set-aside.  A Michigan set-aside limits public access to the record, but it remains available to law enforcement and some other government agencies.  See the description of Michigan’s law providing for set-aside in the Michigan profile from the Restoration of Rights Project.)  The authors remark about the eligibility requirements for set-aside in Michigan:

All of these restrictions mean that the low uptake rate we estimated is even starker when viewed in context: it is a very small fraction of a very small fraction. For the past decade about two thousand set asides per year have been granted in Michigan. Meanwhile, each year the Michigan state courts add about 300,000 new criminal convictions. On balance, the population of people living with criminal records is continuing to grow quickly; the set-aside law is like a bucket removing water from an ever-rising ocean.

We note that Michigan’s eligibility requirements are actually more inclusive than those in most states.  See this 50-state chart.

We expect that the findings of this remarkable new study will prove uniquely valuable to advocates and policy-makers considering changes to laws authorizing relief from collateral consequences in the days and years ahead.

Access to healthcare a lifesaver for halfway house residents

logo_dhhs_lrgOn April 29th the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a shift in policy that will for the first time allow released prisoners residing in “halfway houses” to take advantage of the services made available through the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid Expansion.  The change will provide much-needed medical and rehabilitative services to countless former inmates that would not otherwise have access to essential healthcare resources.  It may seem like a minor change but as a practical matter it is likely to do more to encourage successful reentry than any other single policy decision in recent years.

Until now, halfway house residents have been excluded from coverage because of an interpretation of the Medicaid statute that considered halfway house residents to be “inmates of public institutions” – a category of persons that are statutorily ineligible for Medicaid coverage.  The new DHHS guidance removes those in halfway houses from that category so long as they have “freedom of movement and association while residing in the facility.”  It also clarifies that individuals on parole and probation are not “inmates” and are eligible for coverage.

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Medicare Employment Exclusions and Criminal Records: Good and Bad News

Yvelisse Pelotte, a staff attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, has drafted a survey and analysis of the barriers to employment in Medicare-funded programs and facilities for people with a criminal record, which is posted below.  While some of these exclusions are short-term and others can be waived by the Secretary of HHS, the statute gives HHS a great deal of latitude in extending exclusions for a lengthy period of time.

The applicable federal statute also contains a very broad definition of disqualifying conviction, specifically extending to expunged convictions and guilty pleas not resulting in conviction.  This means that federal law effectively puts off limits a very large segment of health care jobs, at least temporarily, for people with criminal records the state no longer regards as serious, if it ever did.

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SBA relaxes rule against business loans to probationers, while other federal agencies keep collateral consequences unchanged

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) last week published a final rule for its federal Microloan Program that will for the first time allow microloans to small businesses owned by someone currently on probation or parole. In its announcement, the SBA noted that this will “aid[] individuals with the highest barriers to traditional employment to reenter the workforce.”  The change was evidently prompted by a review of agency regulations requested by the Cabinet-level Federal Reentry Council established in 2010 by former Attorney General Eric Holder.

While the change is welcome, it leaves in place substantial restrictions for people under sentence in other SBA loan programs, discussed at length in a post on this site last December.

It is also striking for being the only relaxation of federal collateral consequences since the Reentry Council was established five years ago.  As reported on this site, federal agencies are said to be “mostly satisfied” with their the way their regulations address the situation of people with a criminal record.

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SBA to relax some rules on loans to people with a record, but most left in place

600px-US-SmallBusinessAdmin-Seal.svgIn December 2014, Amy Solomon, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs in the Justice Department, testified before the U.S. Senate Addiction Forum about the review of collateral consequences federal agencies had been conducting under the auspices of the Federal Reentry Council.  She reported that most of the agencies participating in the review had concluded their collateral consequences were “appropriately tailored for their purposes.”  However, she also reported that Small Business Administration (SBA) had proposed amendments to its regulations to allow people on probation or parole to qualify for loans from its microloan program.  (The change, proposed almost a year ago, has still not become final.)

We decided to take a look at the SBA’s proposed rule change, and at the SBA regulatory scheme more generally, to see how having a criminal record affects small business eligibility for government-backed loans. Read more

International travel restrictions based on criminal record

Collat_ConsequencesBelow is another excerpt from the second edition of Love, Roberts & Klingele, Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy & Practice (West/NACDL, 2d ed. 2015)(forthcoming), this one about restrictions on international travel based on criminal record.  The first section discusses the subject in general terms, while the second section describes restrictions on travel to Canada for individuals with a foreign conviction, and the methods of overcoming these restrictions.  (An earlier post described methods of neutralizing Canadian convictions for purposes of travel to the U.S.)

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Federal agencies reportedly (mostly) satisfied with their collateral consequences

In 2013, the Justice Department launched its Smart on Crime Initiative, which included a call for federal agencies to review collateral consequences in their own rules and policies, to determine which could be narrowed or amended without jeopardizing public safety. According to an NPR report, the results of that long-anticipated review are now in:

Amy Solomon was appointed by Attorney General Holder to oversee the twenty federal agencies charged with reviewing their regulations and policies for potential changes. She reports that hundreds of regulations were reviewed, but the vast majority were deemed “appropriately tailored for their purposes,” including HUD’s discretionary housing policies. So far, only three agencies have submitted changes.

In assessing the “appropriately tailored” conclusion in the context of HUD housing policies, NPR reporter Monica Haywood tells the story of Maurice Alexander, a 67-year-old man who was turned away from subsidized housing in the District of Columbia based on a six-year-old misdemeanor threat conviction, despite guidance from HUD encouraging property owners and agents “to develop policies and procedures that allow ex-offenders to rejoin the community.” The HUD guidance urges property owners to consider all relevant information when reviewing applications from people with a criminal record, including evidence of rehabilitation and “probability of favorable future conduct.”

Haywood concludes that, “If Alexander’s case is any indication, owners may not be taking HUD’s advice.” Read more

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