To truly maximize opportunity and minimize injustice, it is incumbent that we seize the opportunities inherent in our nation’s economic recovery to forcefully confront longstanding, discriminatory practices that have disparately harmed Black and Brown communities, businesses, and people. Today’s announcement from the Biden-Harris Administration about the expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to include businesses owned by people with justice system involvement is one example of doing just that.
As Amy Solomon, Vice President of Criminal Justice at Arnold Ventures, wrote last September, “People who have been involved with the criminal justice system often face barriers to employment even after they pay their dues to society. As a result, many turn to self-employment to afford their rent, put food on the table, and support their families…At a time when the nation is grappling with the reality of structural racism, [the policy of excluding people with records from PPP] only works to perpetuate inequality.”
Research commissioned by Arnold Ventures demonstrated the scope of this problem. A study found that approximately 3 percent sole proprietorships, the most common type of business, were likely ineligible for a PPP loan because of a criminal record. While this may seem like a small percentage, it translates to about 700,000−800,000 people.
This policy perpetuated a history of racism within our country’s economic and criminal justice systems. Black and Latino people, particularly men, were disproportionately excluded due to criminal histories. In Michigan, Black men were six times more likely to be excluded from PPP loans than white men. In Texas, Black men were 3.5 times more likely.
Today’s announcement is a laudable step in the right direction. People who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system must be explicitly included in economic recovery efforts. The tragic economic and health crises gripping this country offer us an opportunity to reflect on and strengthen our response to challenges that existed long before the COVID pandemic. We also know, though, that expanding PPP is not enough. We must continue to ensure that all directly impacted people have equitable access to economic opportunity — an absolutely integral part of helping people move forward and improving public safety.