WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) made a renewed push on Thursday to support formerly incarcerated individuals by reintroducing a bill to create a program at the Small Business Administration that would help them start their own businesses.

Cardin joined members of the Progressive Policy Institute on Thursday to make the announcement of the bill, called the New Start Act, to demonstrate support for such efforts. 

Cardin, who also chairs the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, initially introduced the New Start Act in 2019, but it has failed to reach the floor for a vote. 

If signed into law, the Small Business Administration would be required to establish a pilot program that provides grant support to entrepreneurship programs for people with criminal records. 

“If you had been impacted by the judicial system and you tried to get a job, it’s not easy,” Cardin said. “And there are good people out there really working to overcome this, but it’s still there. It’s challenging.”

According to the Sentencing Project, formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of over 27% – making it higher than the U.S. unemployment rate during the Great Depression in 1933 – which was about 25%

PPI’s Metro Federalism Caucus released a report ahead of the panel, outlining four things policymakers can do to support returning citizens: boost public investment, provide pre-release support, strengthen the continuum of care and engage the public. 

Maurice Dixon, a graduate of the Aspire to Entrepreneurship program that aids formerly incarcerated individuals with small businesses, said returning citizens are stigmatized by their past.

“What I’m grateful for is that I did not allow the stigma or the mistake to stop me from achieving the dream that I’ve had,” Dixon said. 

Cardin said entrepreneurship will provide an easier path for those who are often denied traditional jobs and could prevent them from committing crimes again.

“Entrepreneurship can be a critical lifeline for justice-impacted individuals, and it can provide inherent benefits for their families and their communities,” Cardin said in a press release. “These entrepreneurs are less likely to recidivate and more likely to employ other justice-impacted individuals, creating a positive multiplier effect.” 

Cardin also touted several accomplishments of the Biden administration, including the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. He said “social justice” is embedded into each, and he is determined to work with the administration to pass the New Start Act. 

He also noted that the administration worked to change the rule that prohibited returning citizens from participating in the Community Advantage Program, which provides loans to small businesses in underserved markets. 

Cardin acknowledged that the bill will face challenges getting through the Republican-controlled House, but he said he will work closely with his counterparts on the Republican side of the Senate. 

“I guess my main message to you is that we’re making progress, but we’re certainly not where we need to be yet,” Cardin said.