Collected resources on record restrictions for small business relief

*NEW POST (Jan. 21, 2021): Applying for SBA COVID-19 relief with a criminal record in 2021

On this page, we collected a variety of materials on the restrictions related to arrest or conviction imposed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) on small business owners seeking relief under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program during 2020. Included are proposed reform legislation, lawsuits filed, academic studies, letters from legislators and major organizations, articles by us and by others, and official documents related to this issue. (For more current information, see: Applying for SBA COVID-19 relief with a criminal record in 2021.)

After the first COVID-19 relief bill in March 2020, the CARES Act, the SBA imposed broad criminal history restrictions on applicants. Following the introduction of a bipartisan Senate bill, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed on June 10, 2020, to revise the PPP restrictions.  On June 12, 2020, SBA issued new regulations and applications forms to ease some of the barriers in the PPP.  On June 24, 2020, the SBA further relaxed its criminal history barriers for PPP assistance, this time in a far more significant fashion, and in a manner that makes the business owners who are suing the SBA now eligible to apply.  The new regulation and application form came less a week before the June 30, 2020 deadline to apply for relief.

Meanwhile, two lawsuits were 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 second lawsuit also asserts that the restrictions fall hardest on minority businesses due to the impact of over-criminalization on communities of color.  On June 29, 2020, a federal judge ruled that the SBA’s criminal history restrictions on PPP, except for the June 24 policy change, were likely unlawful.  The court extended the deadline to apply, but only for the small business owners who had sued.

In a dramatic finale, Congress extended the PPP application deadline to August 8, 2020 for everyone.  This extension, signed into law on July 4, gave business owners made eligible under the June 24, 2020 policy a meaningful opportunity to learn about their eligibility and complete the application process.

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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

Organizations call on Congress to remove record-related barriers to small business relief

A bipartisan group of civil rights, advocacy, and business organizations, including CCRC, are calling on Congress to take immediate action to remove barriers based on arrest or conviction history for small business owners seeking COVID-19 federal relief.  This is an issue we have been covering in depth in recent posts.  This call to action—available in PDF and reprinted below—is issued by the following organizations (with additional sign-ons welcome; contact us here):

American Civil Liberties Union
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
Collateral Consequences Resource Center
College & Community Fellowship
Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
Drug Policy Alliance
Georgia Justice Project
Interfaith Action for Human Rights
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana
Justice Action Network
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Main Street Alliance
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Employment Law Project
Out For Justice
Public Interest Law Center
Reproductive Justice Inside
Root & Rebound
Safer Foundation
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
Women Against Registry

*Note: the letter was originally issued on April 10 and was last updated on April 17.

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