Forum on governmental barriers to small business financing for people with a criminal history

We are delighted to announce a program where a panel of experts will discuss the barriers faced by small business owners and managers with a criminal history in obtaining government-sponsored loans.

This virtual program will take place on November 18 from 12:00-1:15pm (EST), and is sponsored by the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy as part of its Georgetown on the Hill series. Register for the event here.

The program–which we helped organize along with Georgetown’s PIVOT Program–will focus on the broad criminal history restrictions in rules and policies of the U.S. Small Business Administration. These policies came to the public’s attention in the early days of the pandemic, when thousands of small businesses were denied PPP and other relief authorized by the CARES Act. While many of these restrictions were eventually rolled back in response to widespread criticism, similar restrictions in the SBA’s general lending programs remain, restrictions that influence state and private lending as well. The program on November 18 will explore the origins, scope, and justification for these restrictions.

Panelists include a former high-ranking SBA official, a small business owner who successfully challenged the PPP restrictions in court, a scholar who has argued that the SBA restrictions contravene civil rights law, and the CCRC’s Deputy Director David Schlussel, who contributed to the bipartisan campaign in the spring of 2020 that led the SBA to abandon many of its exclusionary policies.

We hope that everyone interested in collateral consequences, notably those related to access to business capital, will register for the program. The Georgetown announcement describing the program is reproduced below.

Understanding Governmental Barriers to Small Business Financing for People with a Criminal Record

Date: Thursday, November 18, 2021 – 12:00pm to 1:15pm
Location: Zoom Seminar (register for link)

New businesses are a key driver to economic growth, but individuals seeking to start these businesses face a number of challenges. For individuals with a criminal history these challenges of establishing and growing a new business increase dramatically. Indeed, a particularly stifling series of federal regulations and policies are currently in place that impose broad criminal history restrictions on access to government-sponsored business loans.

Last year, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) imposed broad criminal history restrictions on COVID-19 relief, leading to criticism from the public and members of Congress. Successive decisions by the Trump and Biden Administrations rolled back of most of these restrictions on emergency relief, but similar policies remain in the SBA’s general lending programs. Given that about one third of adult Americans have an arrest or conviction record, of whom a disproportionate percentage are people of color, it is important to reconcile this population’s limited access to government-sponsored business capital with the emerging public policy of encouraging reintegration and second chances.

At this Georgetown on the Hill event, a panel of experts moderated by Crystal Francis, Program Manager, Georgetown University Pivot Program, will discuss the economic and social impact of these restrictive policies in a forum with Q&A. Panelists will consider the issues that arose when the policies were applied to pandemic relief funds; the possible correlation between criminal history and creditworthiness; and the elements of a “fair chance” approach to business lending.

Panelists include:

  • Taja-Nia Henderson, Professor of Law, Rutgers University Law School
  • Sekwan Merritt, Entrepreneur and Owner, Lightning Electric, a Baltimore-Based Electrical Contractor
  • Chris Pilkerton, Chief Legal and Regulatory Strategy Officer for the Accion Opportunity Fund, and former Cabinet member and head of the U.S. Small Business Administration
  • David Schlussel, Deputy Director, Collateral Consequences Resource Center

This forum is part of the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy’s Georgetown on the Hill series at which we convene policymakers, academics, and industry experts to discuss important economic policy issues of the day.