Congress must end restrictions on COVID-19 small business relief based on criminal history

April 10, 2020–As part of the CARES Act, Congress has authorized $350 billion in loans and grants administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to support small businesses through two programs, the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program. We joined more than a dozen civil rights organizations across the country to call on Congress to remove barriers to receiving COVID-19 aid that these programs place on small businesses owners with arrest or conviction history.

“The intention of the emergency relief programs authorized by the CARES Act is to sustain small businesses that are trying to save the economy by keeping people employed,” the letter drafted by the Public Interest Law Center, Community Legal Services, and Collateral Consequences Resource Center reads. “Eligibility requirements should be relaxed in these circumstances, not heightened as SBA proposes.”

Our letter highlights the already high unemployment rates among Americans with criminal histories, as well as the fact that a significant number of people with records have established their own businesses, driven by the difficulties they face in the job market. “Moreover, these businesses also tend to be more willing to hire employees with a record,” our letter reads. “Driving them out of business will result in a severe impact on employment of a population that already is disadvantaged in the workplace.”

This letter was sent to congressional lawmakers and advocates across the country, including U.S. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.

We request that Congress act now by directing the Small Business Administration to eliminate new restrictions introduced as part of these programs on aid to small businesses owned by people with criminal histories, relax existing restrictions, and clarify confusion on application forms and guidelines.

Read the full letter here.

The letter was signed by

American Civil Liberties Union
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
Collateral Consequences Resource Center
Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
Drug Policy Alliance
Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Employment Law Project
Public Interest Law Center
Reproductive Justice Inside
Safer Foundation
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
Women Against Registry