Over the past two years, CCRC has been studying the restrictions imposed by the U.S. Small Business Administration on loans to small businesses owned by justice-affected individuals. Many of those same restrictions, which are grounded in an operating policy that recipients of federal assistance have “good character,” also apply by formal rule in the SBA’s business development program under 8(a) of the Small Business Act.
For more than half a century, the so-called “8(a) program” has earmarked federal contracts for businesses owned by socially or economically disadvantaged individuals, and it has been a key driver of community development in urban areas. But the program’s “good character” test has historically excluded from participation many if not most business owned or managed by individuals with a criminal history. The 8(a) program also has satellite programs, including ones offering preferential treatment to businesses owned by women and veterans, though it is less clear whether these programs have similar criminal history restrictions.
Recently, Congress returned responsibility for certifying program eligibility for veteran-owned business from the VA to the SBA, and the SBA has now published proposed certification rules for public comment. These proposed rules offer a first chance to speak to the SBA’s “good character” requirement.
CCRC worked with the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights to draft comments on the proposed rule that are critical of the SBA’s vague and open-ended test of business owners’ “character” that results in disqualification of many deserving individuals from this and other federal programs administered by the SBA. Those comments, which are joined by 24 other organizations, were filed on August 5 and are available here.