Understanding Governmental Barriers to Small Business Financing for People with a Criminal History

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Date: Thursday, November 18, 2021 – 12:00pm to 1:15pm
Location: Zoom Seminar (watch the recording)

New businesses are a key driver to economic growth, but individuals seeking to start these businesses face a number of challenges. For individuals with a criminal history these challenges of establishing and growing a new business increase dramatically. Indeed, a particularly stifling series of federal regulations and policies are currently in place that impose broad criminal history restrictions on access to government-sponsored business loans.

Last year, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) imposed broad criminal history restrictions on COVID-19 relief, leading to criticism from the public and members of Congress. Successive decisions by the Trump and Biden Administrations rolled back of most of these restrictions on emergency relief, but similar policies remain in the SBA’s general lending programs. Given that about one third of adult Americans have an arrest or conviction record, of whom a disproportionate percentage are people of color, it is important to reconcile this population’s limited access to government-sponsored business capital with the emerging public policy of encouraging reintegration and second chances.

At this Georgetown on the Hill event, a panel of experts moderated by Crystal Francis, Program Manager, Georgetown University Pivot Program, will discuss the economic and social impact of these restrictive policies in a forum with Q&A. Panelists will consider the issues that arose when the policies were applied to pandemic relief funds; the possible correlation between criminal history and creditworthiness; and the elements of a “fair chance” approach to business lending.

Panelists include:

  • Sekwan Merritt, Entrepreneur and Owner, Lightning Electric, a Baltimore-Based Electrical Contractor
  • Chris Pilkerton, Chief Legal and Regulatory Strategy Officer for the Accion Opportunity Fund, and former Cabinet member and head of the U.S. Small Business Administration
  • Awesta Sarkash, Government Affairs Director, Small Business Majority
  • David Schlussel, Deputy Director, Collateral Consequences Resource Center

This forum is part of the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy’s Georgetown on the Hill series at which we convene policymakers, academics, and industry experts to discuss important economic policy issues of the day.