In addition to its lending and other programs in support of small businesses, the U.S. Small Business Administration provides long-term low-interest loans under Section 7(b) of the Small Business Act directly to individuals, businesses, and nonprofits in declared disaster areas. The current devastation wrought by Hurricane Ian in Florida — the subject of a dedicated new page on the SBA’s website — reminded us of some research we published two years ago, at the height of the pandemic, about how people with a criminal record were faring under the SBA’s COVID-related disaster relief program. The answer initially was “not well.”
Our research indicates that neither FEMA (emergency aid) nor the USDA (farm loans) impose criminal record restrictions on disaster assistance. But the SBA does. What’s more, the SBA’s restrictions are not formalized in a regulation but buried in operating procedures.
The criminal history restrictions on SBA economic injury disaster loans (EIDL) under the CARES Act were initially even more restrictive than those that applied to its PPP relief, and they too were never formalized in a rule. The PPP restrictions were rolled back in response to public outcry and lawsuits, and the following year the COVID-related EIDL policy was also rolled back to disqualify the same limited population as the PPP itself (people in prison or on probation or parole, with pending felony charges, or with recent financial fraud and related convictions). However, criminal record restrictions in the SBA’s general non-COVID lending programs, including its general disaster assistance programs, were not affected.
Now that the SBA’s disaster assistance programs are no longer administered under the exceptional and well-publicized approach of the pandemic-related authorities, we thought it would be timely to take another look at how those programs — presumably including the one that specifically applies to Hurricane Ian relief — are available to people with a criminal record.