On November 18, the Georgetown Center for Business & Public Policy hosted an informative and provocative forum on “Understanding Governmental Barriers to Small Business Financing for People With a Criminal History.”
This event marks the first public discussion of our organization’s new initiative aimed at illuminating and reducing barriers to small business financing based on criminal history. The panelists were Sekwan Merritt, owner of an electrical contracting business in Baltimore, David Schlussel of CCRC, Awesta Sarkash of the Small Business Majority, and Chris Pilkerton, a former SBA general counsel and acting SBA administrator.
Sekwan Merritt, who has built a thriving business and employs several people who also have a record, illuminated the challenges he faces as a justice-affected entrepreneur in gaining access to business capital. Merritt, a graduate of the Georgetown Pivot Program, was one of the plaintiffs in the litigation that led to the SBA’s rollback of its PPP restrictions after he was denied this emergency COVID-19 federal relief. He explained that because he is still on parole he is ineligible for the SBA’s general loan programs and that the kinds of questions asked on SBA application forms frequently deter people from even applying. Merritt also described the need for a holistic assessment as part of an overall credit evaluation, recognizing achievements such as educational attainment, rather than a frequently-disqualifying early inquiry into criminal record.