His criminal record disqualified him from receiving a PPP. So he pushed back and changed the rules.
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When Troy Parker was released from prison in 2015, he wasted no time. He headed straight for the library in his hometown – Cincinnati, Ohio – to start the business he had spent years of his time thinking about. “Before going to jail I was, let’s just say, a materialist,” Parker says. “But in prison, I saw how many people, especially African Americans, left and came back. They told you they couldn’t find housing or jobs, so they went back to crime or started using drugs. But in prison, we did everything from the kitchen to the boiler: renovation, painting, asbestos removal. So my idea was to have a business that hires returning citizens. In the low-income community, there are people who have mental health issues, or beliefs, or who struggle with drug addiction, but they can still work. I wanted to remove the barriers that prevent these people from working. “
Since Parker founded Innovative labor and cleaning services, he clung to this mission. “If you don’t have transportation to the site, we can offer it,” Parker explains. “If you don’t have boots to start working, we’ll give you the boots and remove them from your first paycheck. Most people coming back from jail or coming out of rehab have mental health appointments, drug addiction appointments, PO appointments. We are therefore making the schedule flexible. We are not really a second chance business. We’re more of a third, fourth, fifth chance business because a lot of people come here and aren’t ready to change at first. They will leave, but four months later they come back and their attitude is a little different.
At the end of 2019, the company had 120 employees. Parker still operated on low margins, bending over backwards to do payroll and turning down jobs due to cash flow issues, but the company made more than $ 2 million last year. Then, in March, the pandemic struck. Immediately Parker applied for the PPP and EIDL loans offered to small businesses under the CARES Act, but was told he was not eligible. The SBA’s PPP rules disqualified anyone convicted of a felony in the past five years, or anyone on parole or probation. At the time, the SBA was automatically rejecting EIDL requests for business leaders who had been convicted of all crime in the past ten years, or anyone with already been convicted of a felony. Because Parker’s conviction was a felony (fraud) and he had six months of probation (out of five years) left, he was not eligible for both.
Parker didn’t greet this news with a shrug. He wrote emails, he made calls, he connected with other business owners with criminal records. Through the Cincinnati African-American Chamber of Commerce, he was in contact with Ohio Senator Rob Portman (right), who overheard Parker and said he would write a letter on behalf of Parker to President Trump’s staff and the SBA. Parker also contacted Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot (R) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D).
Troy Parker with an employee // Image credit: Troy Parker
Across the country, bipartisan advocacy groups and politicians began to voice their opposition to the SBA’s restrictive rules for small business owners with criminal records – pointing to the fact that these business owners had paid their dues. In addition, they now played a vital role in the fight against recidivism, as many of them hire other people with criminal records who often have difficulty finding work.
Senator Portman was particularly keen to defend Parker. And unbelievably, a week before the June 30 P3 deadline, the SBA agreed to change the rules, making parole and probation a disqualification factor (unless parole or probation has passed). started last year). Even with the changed rules, there were a shocking number of hurdles and bureaucratic hurdles to overcome. But Parker filed his PPP application at the literal last hour and ended up receiving both PPP and EIDL loans. With this money, he was able to bring back many old and new employees. Plus, he was able to start taking jobs that he previously couldn’t do due to cash flow issues.
Parker is humble about his contribution to the fight for fair treatment of entrepreneurs with criminal records. But we believe his tireless initiative is how change happens, so we’ve included him as one of 137 inspiring entrepreneurs on our July / August cover, which you can read in Editor’s note from Jason Feifer. Since the issue was published, we have followed up with many of the entrepreneurs we have featured. Here Parker explained a little more about how he sees the role of Innovative Labor and Cleaning Services in the fight for fair treatment of returning citizens, how it took a village to get its PPP funds, and some of the day-to-day hardships it takes. he overcame while running a business during the pandemic.
When you launched Innovative Labor and Cleaning Services, what do you think was the company’s mission?
Parker: Our mission has been to assist and help convicted felons and people that society has forgotten. People like me. People who need patience, understanding and structure in their lives.
When the pandemic hit, what kind of effect did it have on you and your most vulnerable employees?
Like so many small business owners, the pandemic has taken its toll financially and mentally. I have a responsibility not only to my business, but also to my team members and the families they help support. Although difficult, COVID-19 has also given us the opportunity to be creative and innovative. We have found new ways to generate income.
What were some of the ways you supported your employees?
At Innovative Labor and Cleaning Services, we are a family, which means:
- Listen more than talk.
- Explain how to solve life’s problems.
- Help employees pay for WiFi so their kids can learn at home.
- Provide food cards for employees who do not have enough food.
We have tried to help our employees by specifying that:
- We will go through this together. Stay calm.
- We will adjust our schedules as needed to keep everyone working.
- We work with our professionals and the African American Chamber of Commerce to make the best decisions possible.
- Our bank is working with us to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.
What are some of the things you have learned during this advocacy journey that surprised, saddened or gave you hope?
Senator Rob Portman and Congressman Steve Chabot, both Republicans, had extensive knowledge of justice reform and understood the problem of continuing to punish people who made a mistake in life. We discussed and together we came up with workable solutions and ideas. Senator Portman has become a true supporter of my business.
In the end, after months of tireless advocacy, you ended up receiving the PPP and EIDL loans. Do you think this was due to the work you did to bring attention to the problem?
I may have shed light on the plight of Returning Citizens when it comes to P3s lending, but it was the job of many government and community leaders in Cincinnati, who collaborated and did the right thing. for individuals and business owners in situations similar to mine. . After Senator Portman changed the rule, the next problem was that the form on the SBA website still had the old rule. So Nan Cahill and Susan Cox from Senator Portman’s offices had to contact the SBA to get the form with the correct edits from the website, and that was two days before the deadline. With a day to go, they updated the app on the SBA website.
Next, Nicole Pahard from the Cincinnati SBA office put me in touch with Jerome Davis from the SBA Columbus office to find a bank that would work with me because mine had stopped taking requests. I was put in touch with Alene Cunningham from the Telhio Credit Union. It’s huge because I haven’t done any banking with Telhio. Most banks or credit unions did not help non-customers. Alena Cunningham located my candidacy and brought it to fruition. Of course, she didn’t have to, but I was very grateful for her help. This is how I got the PPP loan. It took a lot of help from people.
Since you received the PPP and EIDL loans, how has the business been run?
Once we got the loan, we got creative by going out into the community first and finding people who were willing to work. Some people are afraid of the virus, and others are happy to perceive unemployment unless they can do more work. But there are many who want to work and have barriers like transportation or flexible hours due to the children being at home. We realized that other businesses must have the same issues to get help.
So we started to market to companies in all industries that need manpower. We are now able to supply large amounts of manpower thanks to a huge pool of workers. We have 77 employees, up from 52 in June, with a pool of 134 skilled and unskilled teammates available for work.
Looking ahead, are you optimistic that the SBA and banks will stop restricting access to loans and resources for business owners with criminal records?
Opening up access to PPP loans to business owners with criminal records is certainly a step in the right direction. In recent years, we’ve seen the Ban the Box movement and employers understand better why hiring returning citizens is good economic policy. We are not where we need to be, but I am heartened by the efforts to help those who have paid their price in society and who are now seeking successful and fulfilling lives.