The Washington Post has dug into Trump administration use of a $17 billion federal loan fund intended for businesses critical to national security.
The Post said money has gone to help “a hodgepodge of little-known companies with unclear importance to national defense, and the fund remains mostly unspent nearly eight months after Congress approved it as part of a $2 trillion stimulus bill.”
One recipient of a $2 million loan was SemahTronix, an Arkansas firm that uses low-wage Arkansas prison labor to make wire harnesses for military and commercial customers. It also got an SBA loan of between $350,000 and $1 million in the coronavirus relief legislation. The Post reported:
As of June, the company employed 97 prison inmates through a venture with the Arkansas Department of Corrections, according to a report from the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA), which reviews prison jobs programs. The company’s website says its “innovative partnership” with the state prison system goes back to 2006.
SemahTronix President Travis Atkinson declined to comment. Cindy Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Corrections, said 66 female inmates and 39 male inmates are currently working for SemahTronix, earning between $10 and $10.21 per hour, which is approximately Arkansas’s minimum wage.
NCIA data shows that for the three-month period ending in June, the Arkansas Department of Corrections deducted, in aggregate, around 63 percent of inmates’ pay from SemahTronix to cover expenses including “room and board,” taxes, family support and victims’ programs.
So the inmates are making less than $5 an hour after paying for “room and board.”
According to its website, SemahTronix started in 1977 in Flippin and, then known as Actronix, started a manufacturing venture at the prison in Newport in 2006. Actronix was purchased and renamed in 2017.