Nonprofit Advocates for Business Owners with Criminal Records

NEW ORLEANS – From Operation Restoration:

The Small Business Administration’s decision to disqualify business owners with criminal records from COVID-19 relief will cause extreme harm to our nation. With one in three Americans having some type of criminal record, and people with records experiencing an unemployment rate five times higher than the average rate, these restrictions will have a significant and detrimental impact on individuals, families and communities across the United States. These developments are troubling given the urgent need for relief and the considerable barriers that people with records already face due to discrimination in the economy even in the best of times. Now, those who have already served their time, overcome hardship and started their own businesses, will continue to face barriers based on their past history. Their employees – who themselves may not have criminal records – will also suffer potential layoffs and reductions due to the SBA’s overreach in the Payroll Protection Act and Economic Injury Disaster Loan applications.

As the Co-Founder and Policy Director for Operation Restoration, a nonprofit that supports currently and formerly incarcerated women, I was disappointed to see that the application discriminates against people with criminal convictions. Our organization helps women rebuild their lives after a conviction and as of today we employ 13 full time staff – the majority of which were formerly incarcerated. In addition, our organization is a leader of the national movement to ban the box, which passed legislation to remove criminal history questions on college applications in 2017, providing college applicants a fair chance, without discrimination. Since then, four states have followed our lead and another 15 states are considering similar legislation this year.

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During these unprecedented times, it is my hope that everyone in America has equal access to government assistance to help their businesses survive this crisis. I urge Congress to direct the SBA to reject these discriminatory policies by removing all questions that relate to a person’s criminal record from the application process, to ensure that states with histories of mass incarceration do not continue to suffer economically during the COVID-19 recovery.


By Annie Phoenix, co-founder and policy director of Operation Restoration

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