We are very pleased to see that the U.S. Small Business Administration has taken a significant step toward ending discrimination against justice-affected small business owners in the programs it administers. In a new rule governing certification of veteran-owned businesses for preferential treatment in the award of VA contracts, the SBA has omitted a requirement that business owners must have “good character” to be certified. This is a step we recommended in commenting on the rule when it was proposed last summer, and we are gratified that the SBA accepted our recommendation.
CCRC’s study of the SBA’s record-based restrictions has identified the “good character” requirement as that agency’s long-established way of weeding out people with a criminal history from the programs it administers, including business loans, disaster assistance, and federal contracting opportunities like the one at issue here. Typically, SBA operating procedures give agency staff broad discretion to deny assistance to justice-affected business owners based solely on untested assumptions about perceived risk and desert embodied in the “good character” requirement. Broad inquiries into criminal history on application forms deter many from even applying.
It was therefore a matter of concern to see a “good character” criterion included when the SBA proposed its veteran-owned business rule last summer. The good news was that this offered a first chance for public comment on how this criterion limits opportunities for justice-affected business owners. And it appears that it has led to a very favorable outcome that augurs well for future SBA criminal record reforms.
Webinar November 10 at 1 EST
Generational Wealth: Credit Barriers for People with a Criminal History
Tune on Thursday Nov. 10 at 1 EST for a webinar hosted by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition on barriers to credit for small business owners with a criminal record. Panelists, including CCRC’s Margaret Love, will describe the many formal and informal restrictions on access to credit that make it difficult for an entrepreneur with a criminal record to build a business, including those imposed by the U.S. Small Business Administration on access to federally-guaranteed bank loans. These are issues that CCRC has been exploring since the early days of the pandemic when the SBA’s restrictions on the Paycheck Protection Program came to light.
- Margaret Love, Executive Director, Collateral Consequences Resource Center
- Lettisha Boyd, Owner and Principal Consultant, Beyond Savvy Consumers
- Bonnie Crockett, Director of Small Business Lending at Baltimore Community Lending Inc.
- Susan Grutza, Policy Counsel of the Office of Fair Lending & Equal Opportunity, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Register for the webinar here:
The NCRC’s announcement is here:
Nearly 1 in 3 Americans have a criminal record. Each year over 600,000 Americans are released from state or federal prisons and re-enter society. Re-entry into society poses barriers to everyone but disproportionately affects African Americans and other minorities as African Americans and Hispanics make up 56% of the incarcerated population. This disproportionate representation within the criminal justice system impacts these communities and their ability to build generational wealth due to the barriers that exist upon re-entry.
Join us on November 10th as we speak with advocates, a CDFI, and the CFPB about the barriers that exist for people with a criminal record to build wealth and what can be done to overcome these barriers.
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.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has just issued an extraordinary new report on the financial challenges faced by justice-involved individuals in navigating each stage of the criminal justice system. The report, which describes itself as “the first of its kind done by the CFPB,” paints a devastating picture of how the criminal law enforcement system conspires at every step to exacerbate the financially precarious situation in which many entering the justice system already find themselves.
“Justice-Involved Individuals and the Consumer Financial Marketplace” documents in clear and compelling prose how the financial products and services marketed to individuals and families entangled in the criminal justice system “too often contain exploitative terms and features, offer little or no consumer choice, and can have long-term negative consequences for the individuals and families affected.” What the CFPB researchers found “raises serious questions about the transparency, fairness, and availability of consumer choice in markets associated with the justice system, as well as demonstrating the pervasive reach of predatory practices targeted at justice-involved individuals.”
We are delighted to announce a program where a panel of experts will discuss the barriers faced by small business owners and managers with a criminal history in obtaining government-sponsored loans.
This virtual program will take place on November 18 from 12:00-1:15pm (EST), and is sponsored by the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy as part of its Georgetown on the Hill series. Register for the event here.
The program–which we helped organize along with Georgetown’s PIVOT Program–will focus on the broad criminal history restrictions in rules and policies of the U.S. Small Business Administration. These policies came to the public’s attention in the early days of the pandemic, when thousands of small businesses were denied PPP and other relief authorized by the CARES Act. While many of these restrictions were eventually rolled back in response to widespread criticism, similar restrictions in the SBA’s general lending programs remain, restrictions that influence state and private lending as well. The program on November 18 will explore the origins, scope, and justification for these restrictions.
Panelists include a former high-ranking SBA official, a small business owner who successfully challenged the PPP restrictions in court, a scholar who has argued that the SBA restrictions contravene civil rights law, and the CCRC’s Deputy Director David Schlussel, who contributed to the bipartisan campaign in the spring of 2020 that led the SBA to abandon many of its exclusionary policies.
We hope that everyone interested in collateral consequences, notably those related to access to business capital, will register for the program. The Georgetown announcement describing the program is reproduced below.
We write with an update on our continued work to promote public discussion of restoration of rights and opportunities for people with a record. Highlights from this year’s work are summarized below, including roundups of new legislation, case studies on barriers to expungement, policy recommendations, and a new “fair chance lending” project to reduce criminal history barriers to government-supported loans to small businesses. We thank you for your interest and invite your comments as our work progresses. Read more
Starting a small business is increasingly recognized as a pathway to opportunity for individuals with an arrest or conviction history—particularly given the disadvantages they face in the labor market. An estimated 4% of small businesses in the United States have an owner with a conviction (1.5% have a felony conviction). Small businesses provide “a vital opportunity for those with a criminal record to contribute to society, to earn an honest profit, and to give back to others.” They also frequently employ people with a record and help reduce recidivism. A growing number of organizations and government programs are devoted to supporting individuals with a record in building their own businesses.
Yet many structural barriers remain, including a series of little-known federal regulations and policies that impose broad criminal history restrictions on access to government-sponsored business loans, notably by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). A recent article illustrates the steep challenges faced by business owners with a record by telling the stories of several entrepreneurs who were either denied an SBA loan or were discouraged from even trying for one because of a dated felony conviction. One of those entrepreneurs comments: “You might do five years, ten years, one year, but you pay for it until you’re in the grave.”
To illuminate and help reduce these barriers, our organization is working to develop a new “Fair Chance Lending” project. We hope to show that—rather than broadly exclude individuals with a criminal history—officials should draw record-based restrictions as narrowly as feasible, facilitate access to resources, and celebrate entrepreneurial efforts, consistent with growing national support for reintegration and fair chances in civil society.