Plenty of assistance is available for ex-convicts. If you've recently been released from federal, state, county or local incarceration, all of the social-network services that are available to other eligible citizens are available to you. There are virtually no programs at any level that pay cash grants, awards or other monetary considerations simply for being released from prison. There are organizations dedicated to putting ex-offenders in touch with the appropriate agencies. Social security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, rent assistance—all theses options are available if you qualify.
You may read about federal programs, usually in the form of block grants, awarding millions, even hundreds of millions, of dollars to assist ex-convicts. These are programs that provide money to state agencies to provide assistance to felons in the form of re-entry, training and education programs. These programs do not provide cash assistance to ex-offenders.
There are, however, financial assistance programs available. The Social Security Administration provides benefits to all eligible citizens, including ex-cons. You may qualify for standard Social Security benefits, Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). You can apply for Social Security and food stamp benefits prior to being released from prison. You also might qualify for Medicare health-care benefits.
Every state participates in federal programs that provide food assistance, cash assistance and health insurance. The food stamp program at the federal level is called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and operates under either "SNAP" or various other state program names. TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) provides cash assistance to families with children and is based on income and child-age criteria. TANF is known by other names in some states, such as ABC (A Better Chance) in Delaware, NM Works in New Mexico and CALWORKS (California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids). Like the SNAP and TANF programs, Medicaid eligibility guidelines are left to the states, within the parameters of established federal regulations. Medicaid is available to people with limited incomes, and they must meet other eligibility requirements that vary among states. With Medicaid benefits, money is not paid to you but to your health-care providers. Each state also has its own employment and job-training programs.
Charities and Nonprofits
Hundreds of churches, social agencies, charities and nonprofit organizations assist ex-convicts at the local level. For example, the R/6 Program in Kentucky is administered through the Kentucky Baptist Convention's prison ministry service. The mentoring program—the six Rs stand for release, re-entering, re-adjustment, relationships, responsibility and reward—helps recently released offenders acclimate to society by providing structure, discipline and assistance with food, clothes and cash needs like rent payment. The program usually begins with pre-release interviews and counseling, but other ex-felons who have found themselves without support or resources have been helped after their releases. Many churches, hospitals and government agencies can put you in touch with organizations to help with financial problems like food, clothing and shelter.
Some states have taken steps to make the reentry process easier for ex-convicts, making it less cumbersome to find work. Some city governments in Connecticut, for instance, have eliminated questions about felony convictions on employment applications. Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Norwich have led the "ban the box" campaign that has been embraced by other states. Many state and federal initiatives have provided tax incentives to employers who hire ex-offenders.
Financial aid is available through numerous sources to help pay for college tuition costs. Contacting a college's or university's guidance department can provide direction to sources of financial assistance and scholarships. You'll probably have to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Some ex-felons are ineligible, such as those with certain drug and violent convictions, although some applicants may qualify by completing drug rehab or other programs.
- Social Security Online: SSI Spotlight on Pre-release Procedure
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Review of State Government Food Stamp Websites
- Colorado Access 2000: Medicaid: State by State Descriptions & Plans
- The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission: R/6 Programs Help Ex-offenders Regain Livelihood
- Free Money Ate My Brain: Sources of Help for Ex-Cons
- The Sentencing Project: Relief from the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction