We took on the Small Business Administration's unlawful rules excluding business owners with criminal histories in court

Sekwan Merritt_ center_ one of the plaintiffs in the case and the owner of Lightning Electric
Sekwan Merritt, center, one of the plaintiffs in the case and the owner of Lightning Electric
As the country entered a period of deep economic decline, John Garland, owner of a small graphic design business, tried to apply for federal aid to pay his employees. He was unable to apply due to a pending misdemeanor charge that he denies, for which he has not been convicted. Mr. Garland is one of thousands of small business owners who found themselves blocked from receiving federal aid because they have an arrest or conviction history. 

After months of advocacy pushing the Small Business Administration (SBA) to change its rules, we went to court. On June 16, 2020, we filed a lawsuit challenging the SBA's broad restrictions on COVID-19 aid for small businesses owned by people with criminal histories, along with ACLU and Washington Lawyers' Committee, representing small business owners Sekwan Merritt and John Garland and nonprofit Defy Ventures. Pro bono counsel was provided by Jenner & Block and Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Read more about the case in coverage from Route Fifty and the Wall Street Journal

On June 24, responding to our lawsuit, the SBA changed its rules, greatly expanding eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). On June 29, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled that the SBA's previous restrictions were arbitrary, capricious and unlawful. The Court granted an application extension to our newly eligible clients, who never should have been stopped from applying in the first place.

"Thousands of businesses owned by people with criminal histories were illegally blocked from receiving aid through the PPP program, and Black and Latinx communities faced the deepest impact of this restriction," said staff attorney Claudia De Palma. "The SBA must not repeat this injustice in any future aid programs, and we hope that the clear message sent by today's ruling will ensure that they won't."

Yesterday, the United States Senate passed a bill extending the PPP program, which expired yesterday, through August 8. This extension, if signed into law, would give many business owners who were unlawfully excluded from the program for the majority of its duration a meaningful opportunity to apply for aid.

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Take Action: Tell Senators Casey and Toomey that Pennsylvania public schools need federal aid

U.S. Capitol
In the coming school year, public schools across Pennsylvania will face the challenge of ensuring that students and staff are safe, while supporting students who fell behind when schools shifted to remote instruction. 

At the same time, Pennsylvania school districts are projected to lose up to $1 billion in local revenue due to the economic downturn. Instead of having additional resources to meet their new challenges, some districts have announced layoffs of teachers and support staff in response to these shortfalls.  To avoid further painful cuts that will affect a generation of students, additional federal aid for public education is vitally important. 

Use this tool from our friends at Education Voters of Pennsylvania to send a letter to U.S. Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, urging them to make aid for public schools a central part of any future COVID-19 stimulus package. Schools across the country are facing a similar crisis. Read our joint letter with members of the PA Schools Work coalition, sent to the Senators this morning, urging them to support at least $175 billion in flexible funding for nationwide K-12 education in future responses to COVID-19.

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Law Center in the News: Our history taking on Frank Rizzo's racist and unaccountable policing in 1970s Philadelphia

The statue of Frank Rizzo at the Municipal Services Building_ which was removed on June 3
The statue of Frank Rizzo at the Municipal Services Building, which was removed on June 3
On June 3, responding to Black Lives Matter protests for racial justice, the City of Philadelphia removed the statue of former Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo from the plaza in front of the Municipal Services Building. It had long been a symbol of a culture of policing that targeted Black residents and shirked oversight.

The Philadelphia Inquirer published an in-depth retrospective on Rizzo's tenure as Commissioner and Mayor, documenting years of unchecked police brutality and little accountability. The article features our attorney Michael Churchill, who led our efforts to hold PPD accountable during the era. As part of this work, we completed a study of police shootings, documenting 17 shootings of unarmed people in 1978 alone, many of which were not fully investigated.

 "The department was basically into what you might call 'looking tough.' It was an important part of their image," Michael Churchill said. "There were more disciplinary actions against people for not having their shoes polished than for substantial misconduct."
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We're looking for advocates and volunteers to join a Disability Rights Policy Circle

A student sitting by a locker

The Public Interest Law Center logo
A wheelchair user working in a science lab
If you are an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, we want to hear from you. 

We are forming a new Disability Rights Policy Circle. This group of volunteers will help us identify the urgent unmet needs of people with disabilities and make a plan for how the Law Center may be able to address them. The circle will meet monthly for a year, interviewing experts, reaching out to organizations, and identifying systemic legal needs and issues. You do not need to be a policy expert or have a background in disability law to join this circle--just someone interested in helping make positive change for Pennsylvanians with disabilities

You can make a difference and help us plan our work around this important issue. Please respond with a brief statement of interest no later than July 7, 2020 to Staff Attorney Darlene Hemerka at dhemerka@pubintlaw.org.

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Welcome new members to our Board of Directors!

Zachary Arbitman
Zachary Arbitman
Dean Beer
Dean Beer
Michael DiBerardinis
Michael DiBerardinis
Curtis Shiver
Curtis Shiver
We are excited to welcome four new members to our Board of Directors, elected during our June Annual Meeting! 

Zachary Arbitman is a senior associate at Youman & Caputo, LLC, specializing in complex civil litigation. Dean Beer most recently served as Chief Public Defender for Montgomery County. Curtis Shiver is a TreeKeeper forPhiladelphia Parks & Recreation and has advocated for just housing policies in Philadelphia. Michael Diberardinis is a Professor of Practice at theFels Institute of Government at Penn and previously served as Managing Director for the City of Philadelphia. Help us welcome them by liking their post on LinkedIn!

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Advancing Justice Together - Our 2020 Annual Celebration

Advancing Justice Together_ A one night only virtual event to support the public interest law center. Illustrations of Law Center clients
Illustration by Symone Salib

On October 1, join us for a one night only virtual event celebrating those who help us Advance Justice Together. Our allies will come together from across the country to recognize all those who help us take on discrimination and poverty: pro bono partners, supporters and friends, and clients who stand up to the injustice they see in their own lives and the lives of their neighbors. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020
6 - 7:30 p.m.
Streaming virtually online

The event will feature performances from some of Philadelphia's most talented musicians and artists, including Amos Lee and BalletX.

Both free and premium tickets are available for this event, but registration is required to attend. For more information about tickets, sponsorship, and accessibility, please contact Michael Berton at mberton@pubintlaw.org or 267-546-1303.

Tickets _ Information