COVID-19 & Justice

Paycheck Protection Program Leaves Behind Formerly Incarcerated Business Owners

WLA Guest
Written by WLA Guest

By Joseph Jungermann, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Caliph Muab-El entered the prison system at 15 as the youngest person in Wisconsin to be tried as an adult after being convicted of a shooting. He walked out 15 years later with nowhere to go and no guidance on how to acclimate back into his community.

That’s what inspired him to found Breaking Barriers Mentoring. Now 38, he has established a Wisconsin network for formerly incarcerated youth in juvenile detention centers who are homeless on release so that they face an easier path back to their community than he did.

It was nearly impossible for him to find work at 30 after spending half his life in prison, Muab-El said. He stressed the importance of building networks for young people so they don’t become displaced when they leave prison.

But now, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, he is facing a barrier to continue to provide support.

When he sought funding through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), he was disqualified because the application asks about criminal history.

“This was a big blow to us when we found out that our organization didn’t qualify because of the Payroll Protection Program excluding directly impacted people who are currently on supervision and that have a felony,” Muab-El said during a group telebriefing for formerly incarcerated business owners who have been rejected by the PPP.

He is now concerned about how to pay his staff and fund his business programs and initiatives: “We are overstretching our resources.”

The coronavirus has made it difficult for Muab-El to organize youth support groups, as he has been forced to hold at least 70% of meetings with staff and youth clients virtually; the rest are in-person meetings held 6 feet apart.

For the program “to exclude us out of that whole equation and give it to big businesses and special interests, that for us is a smack in the face,” he said.

JustLeadershipUSA, an advocacy group supporting incarcerated people’s rights, sharply criticized the Small Business Administration (SBA) for awarding millions of dollars from the program to multiple publicly traded companies, including fast food chain Shake Shack. Shake Shack has since returned its $10 million loan in response to public backlash.

‘We don’t get a second chance’

“The current form of this loan program contains unnecessary constrictions that push out formerly incarcerated people while diverting millions of dollars to large corporations,” said DeAnna Hoskins, JustLeadershipUSA president and CEO. “Excluding a class of people from this program simply because of their past is discrimination.”

Unclear SBA guidelines to determine which companies are eligible to receive funding, combined with restrictions on those who were formerly incarcerated, have led some small business owners to give up on the application process altogether.

“Everything has a stipulation where they are stopping us now for applying for these same loans that these other businesses get to have,” said Dontae Thomas, CEO of a sports apparel company called Team Chizel.

He has served three of his five years of probation after being incarcerated for 10 years. He, too, is disqualified.

“They say we get a second chance when we come out,” Thomas said. “But we don’t get a second chance because our background haunts us.”

PPP is expected to receive its second round of funding totaling $310 billion. There is no word whether SBA will lift the restriction for formerly incarcerated people. SBA representatives did not respond to an email asking if restrictions would be lifted.

Teresa Hodge, co-founder and CEO of R3 Score Technologies, a mobile platform to assist people with criminal records find financial opportunities, applied early to the PPP despite her belief that she would not be approved.

Since she had been incarcerated more than five years ago, she would not be disqualified. But after the program’s initial funding evaporated quickly and she got no response on her application status, she decided, “Silence is a sign of denial.”

As for Muab-El and other formerly incarcerated business owners across the nation struggling to find some relief during the pandemic, the COVID-19 crisis only highlighted something he already knew.

“We have been the most impactful in the community and the federal government seems to not care about that,” Muab-El said. “This is one of the most pressing civil rights matters in our time. And that is mass incarceration.”

This story was first published by the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Photo of Caliph Muab-El by Joseph Jungermann


  • Uh….yeah. “Minister” Caliph of the religion of peace that we all know, Islam and a proud “Moorish American” said on his website that he shot a guy who robbed him…Uh… can go to a supermax prison for THAT? Another thug who would have MUCH more of my respect if he didn’t gloss over or minimize his crime and would actually talk about his victim.

    Sorry, oh Holy One, you might have to get a real job like anyone else, stocking shelves or driving groceries around. You’re not any more deserving of my tax dollars than anyone else.

    I cannot FATHOM why Celeste thinks people like this are deserving of sympathy, praise and adulation. What about the poor kid who did everything RIGHT, didn’t shoot someone, went to college and did well? Is that just too boring? WHY this obsession with criminals?

  • I’d rather Shake Shake keep $10 million that give a penny to this clown.
    Unlike this tard, Shake Shake actually employs people…a lot of people and probably won’t send the money to isis.

  • LASD Apostle – do you find his religion any more repugnant than that of the White snake handlers in the South, or the children of Christ who find miracle plates in Utah, or how about the multi-lingual brethren who speak in tongues, believe life begins in conception and want to get back to the beauty salon because they cant see a virus and do not believe its real. Besides, they say, the lord will take care of them. I’ve seen a few of them on Fox and instead of the beauty salon, although they should mosey on down there, they should go to the dentist. And, LASD Apostle, if you look at the website it says “WitnessLa, CRIMINAL justice journalism….”. That is why the focus on criminal justice. What idiotic questions you ask. Stop the whining and start your own site.

    And, I would not tell anyone to get a real job if I were you. You work or worked for the Sheriff’s Department- a cushy, overpaid, glorified security guard job that allows you to feed on the government trough. Take Polonius’s advice and to thine own self be true. Hypocrite.

    Again, your simple calculus and that of LOL does not allow you to see the big picture. I’d rather this guy get the money than the airlines. They are getting $25 Billion. That is 25 with 9 zeros after it, six more than this guy would probably get. $25B! For what? Its a bailout of the shareholders, welfare for shareholders. If you want to whine about people getting welfare, how about the airlines, those CEO and the shareholder. You wont because they aren’t black or brown. Hypocrite.

  • Hey gj, Witness la isn’t featuring articles written be poor rural white people, (or especially their religious belief’s), so why would someone comment on them? Other than you of course, always ready to signal your contempt them, which among your tribe appears to be all the rage these days.

    Gj, did you tell the police it was a generic “red neck in a pick up truck”that ran you off the road? If you had ever been a full time cop you would have realized what a lame story that is.

  • Hey douche, airlines employee about 600,000 Americans and are vital to the economy. Keeping big businesses afloat is critical to keeping the economy alive. Big business employee a large percentage of Americans. You and your ilk despise big business because you don’t have the ability or determination to actually succeed. You’d rather take a handout, smoke weed, and play video games than contribute to the success of the country.
    It isn’t a crime or a shame to be successful. Please though, keep teaching your kids that it’s unfair and racist because a lifetime of failing is better than working long days and struggling to get ahead right?

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