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.

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Applying for SBA COVID-19 relief with a criminal record in 2021

Last Updated: September 9, 2021

In December 2020, Congress authorized additional COVID-19 financial relief for small businesses and nonprofits, available through the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA’s two primary programs for COVID-19 financial relief are the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable loans to small businesses and nonprofits to help keep their staff employed during the crisis; and the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, which provides advances and loans to small businesses and nonprofits that experience a temporary loss of revenue due to COVID-19.

After the first COVID-19 relief bill, the CARES Act, funded these programs in March 2020, the SBA imposed broad criminal history restrictions on applicants. In the face of pressure, the administration relaxed those restrictions several times over the course of the following months.  In March 2021, the Biden Administration removed an additional restriction.  In this post, we review those developments and describe the SBA’s current criminal history policies, also available on the SBA’s website (PPP and EIDL).

To summarize, as a result of developments to date, the SBA now excludes from PPP relief only a narrow category of people with a criminal record: those 1) actually incarcerated or with pending felony charges; or 2) convicted, pleaded guilty or nolo contendere to, or commenced any form of parole or probation within the last 5 years for certain financial felonies. The category of those excluded from EIDL relief is broader: 1) anyone convicted of any felony within the past five years, and 2) anyone with any sort of pending criminal charges.

We conclude with a series of recommended changes to the laws governing SBA loans that affect people with a criminal record, and to related SBA regulations and policies.  These recommendations include consideration of how a loan applicant’s criminal record is treated in the rules and policies governing the SBA’s general lending programs under Section 7(a) and 7(b) of the Small Business Act, whose only mention of criminal record is to authorize the SBA to “verify the applicant’s criminal background, or lack thereof,” including through an FBI background check.

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

*UPDATE (7/7/20):  “SBA throws in the towel and Congress extends the PPP deadline

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

SBA has no excuse for excluding people with a record from stimulus relief

*UPDATE (7/7/20):  “SBA throws in the towel and Congress extends the PPP deadline

Some federal officials have claimed in recent days that the government is required to bar people with a criminal record from emergency loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) either by the CARES Act or by preexisting SBA rules.  Neither assertion is true.

There is nothing in federal law, including the CARES Act, that requires the Small Business Administration (SBA) to disqualify small businesses from applying for PPP loans based on an owner’s past arrest or conviction history.  Prior to enactment of the CARES Act, the SBA’s rules disqualified only people with open criminal cases from the 7(a) loan program of which the PPP is the newest part.  Yet in launching the PPP, the SBA inexplicably decided to impose entirely new record-related restrictions on a population that is already severely disadvantaged: the new PPP rules and accompanying application forms prohibit loans to any small business owner convicted of a felony within the past five years, or placed on probation or parole during that time, even if all court-imposed penalties have been fully satisfied.  In fact, the SBA even disqualifies people whose felony charges never led to a conviction, but instead were dismissed after completion of pretrial diversion.

Our one-pager, “At a Glance: Barriers to the Paycheck Protection Program (‘PPP’) Based on Arrest or Conviction,” available in PDF and included below, explains the new barriers to relief under the PPP as well as preexisting barriers under the 7(a) program.

The SBA’s new policy, which comes at perhaps the worst possible time for struggling small businesses, cannot be squared with recent Congressional efforts to support people with past justice involvement in their efforts to reintegrate into the community, by enabling them to compete fairly for federal employment and contracts.  Eligibility requirements for federal relief should be relaxed in these circumstances, not made more restrictive as the SBA has done.  A coalition of conservative groups today urged in a letter to Senator McConnell that Congress take steps to roll back this counterproductive SBA policy, joining advocates who wrote last week directly to the federal executive officials most directly responsible for it.  We hope Congress will curb the SBA’s authority to discriminate against small business owners with a record in its new stimulus package.

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Applying for an SBA loan with a criminal record

*NEW: Applying for SBA COVID-19 relief with a criminal record in 2021 (March 8, 2021)

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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