Jobs for Economic Recovery Act: A Necessary Tool for Returning Citizens Seeking Employment


Author: CEO's Policy Team

The Center for Employment Opportunities applauds the introduction of the Jobs for Economic Recovery Act by Senators Baldwin, Wyden, Bennet, Booker, and Van Hollen. If passed by Congress, the measure would provide jobs to unemployed and underemployed individuals, including those returning home from incarceration facing multiple barriers to work in an economy severely affected by COVID-19.

Jobs for Economic Recovery Act

The Act provides subsidized employment and transitional jobs funds for states, tribes, local governments, and nonprofit organizations, including employment social enterprises, to create jobs for individuals displaced from work due to the public health emergency. The funds will provide wages and also may be used for support services, such as child care, and job training programs that people will need to access in the transition back to work.

While prior stimulus legislation assisted states with emergency resources, this bill will allow states the flexibility to create and expand efforts specifically targeted to employment for the more than 20 million individuals out of work, preventing further structural unemployment. The immediate availability of funds through the Social Security Act ensures that states and localities may quickly scale opportunities for impacted people to earn a wage while employers access workers to get back to business. The bill specifically recognizes that individuals with a criminal record face long-term unemployment without tools and supports to overcome barriers to work.

The bill measure provides funding through 2022 if programs respond to phased-in requirements to build evidence that more people are employed as a result of the subsidized jobs.

Connecting Formerly Incarcerated Individuals to Jobs

CEO is an employment social enterprise that provides transitional jobs to returning citizens. An employment social enterprise is a mission-driven, revenue-generating business that provides employment and on-the-job skills training to participants who face barriers to employment. CEO often partners directly with state and local agencies, such as state departments of transportation or parks and recreation. These partnerships allow agencies to aid in reentry and meet a labor need, while CEO participants earn a daily wage, gain skills and work experience prior to obtaining a permanent unsubsidized job with an employer in their community.

State and local governments face severe budget shortfalls as a result of the pandemic. Due to budget cuts, CEO transitional jobs slots with local governments retracted during the pandemic, even as our job training services and wages are needed like never before. This challenge compounds when employers limit hiring in the economic downturn, and participants need transitional jobs longer - plus additional training opportunities - as they search for permanent employment.

The legislation will help organizations like CEO connect more people to employment and training as the economy recovers. Finding job opportunities will be acutely needed in the low-income communities of color from which so many currently incarcerated people come. In addition to health inequities, Black and Latino people bear more of the negative economic impacts from the virus — further compounding historic racial disparities and over-representation within the criminal justice system.

In any given year more than 600,000 people return home from prison and need a job.

During the pandemic releases from prison rightfully accelerated, meaning even more people are returning home looking for meaningful employment. Getting a job with a past criminal conviction is difficult in the best economy. Around half of CEO participants have not worked before. CEO’s transitional job program is proven to connect individuals to employment. In one evaluation, three years post-release CEO participants were 48% more likely to be employed than those in the comparison group, receiving basic job training services.

Congress Must Act

CEO’s participants and justice-impacted individuals must be included in a plan for economic recovery. We urge Congress to back up its work on bipartisan criminal justice reform by ensuring that those with a criminal record are not further harmed as Congress addresses ongoing fallout from COVID-19.