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.