Ex-Felons Assistance Programs | Help For Felons

Federal and state governments have put in place several ex-felon assistance programs to help people coming out of incarceration take the first step toward assimilating back into society.

Being released after serving a sentence is a turning point for many ex-offenders. Trying to get your life in order again is a priority and for many ex-felons finding a home and a job to provide for themselves are major milestones they need to reach to restart their lives as common citizens.

The following is a list of assistance programs that may be able to help you.

Top 5 Ex-felon Assistance Programs and Resources

There are several reentry programs and initiatives created by the federal and state government that can help felons kickstart their integration back into society.

The programs can help you find employment and housing and put you on the path to successful reintegration into society.

1) Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC)

This program incentivizes the hiring of ex-offenders by offering employers a tax credit. Under this program, the wages are paid to employees hired from certain targeted groups, including previously incarcerated individuals.

Benefits under WOTC:

While the program does not offer any monetary benefits for ex-felons, it makes hiring them lucrative for employers.

The latter will be more willing to employ an ex-offender if they are aware of the benefits under WOTC. Under this program, the credit is generally 40% of wages for new hires who work 400+ hours in a year.

Who is eligible:

Taxable employers of any size are eligible to claim benefits under this scheme. Under section 51 of the code, certified individuals from certain targeted groups are defined for whom the employer can seek a tax credit.

This includes individuals who were previously convicted of a felony. Employers must hire ex-felons within a year of their release or after their parole or probation period concludes.

How to apply:

The application process is handled by the employer. Job seekers can increase their chances of getting hired under this process by getting Conditional certifications (ETA Form 9062)that alert potential employers about WOTC eligibility if the person is hired.

While not mandatory, the certificate can be helpful. The state workforce agency can help ex-felons with this certification.

Employers have to receive a verification certificate stating the new hire belongs to a targeted group listed in the program.

IRS Form 8850, ETA Form 9061, or ETA Form 9062, should be submitted to the state workforce agency within 28 days of the start date of the new hire.

When the taxable employer receives the certification, they can claim the WOTC as a general business credit against their income taxes.

2) Federal Bonding Program

Employers are usually wary of hiring ex-felons because they are afraid of exposing their business to the potential risk of theft, forgery, or any loss in revenue caused by the hire.

This is where the federal bonding program helps mitigate the risks involved and reassure employers so they can hire with confidence.

It reduces the risk of employing them by offering employers an insurance policy that covers various risks like larceny, forgery, robbery, etc. that they might incur if they hire an ex-offender.

Benefits under the scheme:

The program benefits the employers by offering them fidelity bonding against any losses caused to the business by any criminal or dishonest activity of the bonded ex-felon; this could include embezzlement, forgery, or theft.

The bonds are issued to the employers free of cost and they carry a limit of $5,000 limit with a $0 deductible.

However, businesses can claim up to $25,000 in some cases. They cover the first six months of the employment period of the ex-felon. The employer can opt to pay to extend the coverage at the end of the 6 months.

Who is eligible:

Any individual with an arrest record, previously convicted offenders, imprisoned individuals, or those with a policed record, and offenders currently on parole or probation are all eligible to be hired under the Federal Bonding Program.

They should meet the state’s minimum legal working age. Workers who have secured permanent employment with at least 30 hours of work per week. This does not cover self-employment.

How to apply:

If a job offer is made to an ex-offender and it is accepted, the employer must send a letter to the Bonding Coordinator that includes details like the worker’s identity confirmation, employment offer, job title, work location, start date, salary, and the number of hours of work per week.

The letter can be emailed to the bonding coordinator of the respective state. There are also helplines available for assistance with the application.

3) Prison Entrepreneurship Program

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program or PEP is one of the oldest and largest programs in the US. designed to equip incarcerated individuals with entrepreneurial skills, and reduce their chances of committing an offense again.

Re-entry services for graduates are also provided to help them transition from prison life to society after serving their sentence.

It also helps them with temporary housing, employment opportunities post-release, and support if they pursue entrepreneurship.

Benefits under the scheme:

Several programs are offered under this scheme that is focused on imparting entrepreneurship skills to formerly incarcerated individuals and helping them create self-employment opportunities for financial stability and wealth creation.

The in-prison entrepreneurship programs provide training (akin to mini-MBAs”) while they are serving sentences while post-release programs are offered post-release from prison.

One of the major benefits of this program is allowing incarcerated individuals to use their time in prison to gain skills that will translate to creating business opportunities for themselves and becoming self-employed.

Once they leave the prison, they also have access to counseling, employment opportunities, temporary housing, and other related support services.

Who is eligible:

Individuals must have a high school degree or GED, and they must be within 3 years of their prison release date. They should not be active gang members. Also, sexual offenders are not eligible for the program.

How to apply:

The PEP staff shortlists the individuals who are eligible and invite them to apply. These individuals can then request more information and the application forms.

The form includes questions on their past, family, addictions, schooling, gang history, and a brief timeline.

They are also required to provide an essay testifying to why they are a good fit for the program. In some cases, interviews are also conducted before admission.

4) Federal Pell Grant

Ex-felons are usually not eligible for the majority of student aid loans and grants. However, Pell Grants are a rare exception.

This grant is open to any individual in extreme financial need and who wants to pursue an undergraduate degree. Individuals can apply to any one of the 5400 participating postsecondary institutions under this grant.

This grant is open to ex-felons but with restrictions.

Benefits of applying for a Pell Grant:

The distinguishing feature between a Pell Grant and any other student loan is that you don’t have to repay the loan received under the grant (there are a few exceptions).

The amount disbursed under this grant changes yearly. For 2022-23, the academic year July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, the maximum Federal Pell Grant award is set at $6,495.

The amount that will be received depends on several factors like expected family contribution, cost of attendance, whether the individual is enrolled as a full-time or part-time student, and whether the individual plans to attend the full year or not.

Who Can Apply:

Incarceration and type of conviction can affect eligibility for this grant. Individuals who are still confined in a local, municipal, or county correctional facility or committed to a juvenile justice facility can apply for the grant if they meet other eligibility criteria.

Individuals with convictions related to forcible or non-forcible sexual offenses and involuntary civil commitment after release for these offenses are not eligible for the Federal Pell Grants.

Individuals on parole or serving probation can also apply for the Pell Grants provided the charges were not related to sexual offenses.

A drug-related conviction will not affect eligibility; however, additional information will be needed at the time of application.

How to Apply:

Like most federal student aid, individuals must fill out the FAFSA form to apply for the Federal Pell Grant. The form is available online at fafsa.gov.

It can be accessed and filled out using the myStudentAid mobile app or on paper. A Social Security number is required to access the app or to electronically sign the FAFSA form.

The application is free of cost. Felons who have not yet been released can supply the mailing address of the facility where they are confined.

5) Various State and Local Programs:

For many ex-felons, many of the federal-level assistance programs may be out of reach or they may be ineligible to apply for them.

However, almost every state, county, or municipality will have programs that help and assist ex-felons’ re-entry into society.

These include grants, aids, loans, resources, counseling, training, housing, or employment support services.

Benefits:

Local and state programs are specifically designed for ex-offenders in the state and will have comprehensive resources that are easily accessible.

Furthermore, they may also have offices and facilities within reach of the individuals that can offer in-person support and help find the best assistance programs for the individual.

Who Can Apply:

Different programs will have different eligibility criteria for ex-felons of their respective states. Visiting the local career or job placement office can help connect the individuals with the right assistance.

How to Apply:

The application process will be different for each program. Resources are available online that list the application forms and procedures for respective programs.

Each state department will have its resource center. Felonyrecordhub.com has a comprehensive, state-wise list of programs offered by each state to ex-felons.

Selecting the relevant state and program will list out all the details of the program along with eligibility criteria and the application process.

Starting over as an ex-offender can be a challenge but with the right attitude, determination, and guidance, you can successfully reintegrate into society and build your life again.

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