SBA eases some criminal history barriers and faces litigation

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

After Congress authorized hundreds of billions of dollars for small business relief during COVID-19, the Small Business Administration (SBA) imposed restrictions on applicants with an arrest or conviction history.  We have written much in recent weeks about how these barriers, neither required nor contemplated by Congress, impede access to the two major relief programs for small businesses, nonprofits, and independent contractors: the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.

Following the introduction of a bipartisan Senate bill to roll back most of these barriers, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed on June 10 to revise the PPP restrictions.  On Friday, June 12, SBA issued new regulations and application forms to ease some of the barriers in the PPP.  The changes are more limited than the proposed Senate bill, and continue to reflect an SBA overreach in its approach to loan applicants with criminal records, at a time when we are nearing the June 30 closing date to apply for this much-needed assistance.

Meanwhile, two lawsuits have been filed against the SBA in federal court in Maryland, asserting that the SBA’s criminal history restrictions are beyond the agency’s authority, arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to the text of the CARES Act.  The first lawsuit, filed on June 10, is brought by The New Civil Liberties Alliance on behalf of a corner store in Hagerstown, Maryland, which was denied PPP assistance based on its owner’s 2004 felony conviction, for which he is on parole.  The second lawsuit, filed on June 16 by the ACLU, Public Interest Law Center, and Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, also asserts that the restrictions fall hardest on minority businesses due to the impact of over-criminalization on communities of color.  The suit is on behalf of the owner of an electrical contracting business on parole for a 2012 drug conviction, a graphic designer with pending misdemeanor charges, and a nonprofit that provides job and entrepreneurial training for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals.  None of the business owner plaintiffs in these two lawsuits would be eligible under the SBA’s new policies, which we analyze below.  (Further information on the lawsuits is also below.)

Read more

“Preventing Background Screeners from Reporting Expunged Criminal Cases”

www.povertylawIn an article published this week by the Shriver Center, Preventing Background Screeners from Reporting Expunged Criminal Cases, Sharon Dietrich offers helpful advice for advocates on to how to combat the problem posed by the reporting of expunged and sealed criminal records by private commercial background screening services. Her advice is based partly on her own organization’s participation in litigation under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) against one of the country’s larger background screeners — an experience that she recounts in detail.

Dietrich identifies the problem of improper private reporting of expunged records as one that “threatens to undermine the whole strategy of broadening expungement as a remedy for the harm of collateral consequences.” She describes the underlying issue as follows:

 [T]he commercial background-screening industry, which runs the lion’s share of the background checks obtained by employers and landlords, sometimes reports those expunged cases long after they have been removed from the public record. Companies in the background-screening industry typically maintain their own privately held databases of criminal cases from which they generate background checks. When updating their data from public sources (often state courts), these screeners often do not use methods to determine whether cases that were reported by their sources have been removed (i.e., expunged or sealed), and they continue to report them.

Read more