“It really helps”: this program gives money in the middle of the coronavirus to former prisoners in New Orleans | Coronavirus
When Shawn Bart returned to New Orleans after serving four and a half years in state prison, he had little more than the clothes on his back.
His mother was dead and other ties had faded. He soon began working two jobs, but his long-term prospects dimmed when the coronavirus outbreak hit the city in mid-March.
Bart, 50, is now one of hundreds of New Orleans residents receiving cash injections from a national, privately funded program to help formerly incarcerated people get up and stay up during the pandemic.
“It really, really helps,” he said. “It’s your first time back from prison and they have something for you, someone trying to help you.”
After just four days, Louisiana had to shut down the $24 million program to help residents pay their rent after the program was inundated with…
The program has been called a “stimulus” by the nonprofit Center for Employment Opportunities, which hopes to distribute millions of dollars to about 8,800 people nationwide and 600 in New Orleans.
While the word “stimulus” might generate visions of US Treasury Department checks, the money comes from a private fund managed by the Ford Foundation and Blue Meridian Partners, with support from the Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
These groups designed the program as a private counterpart to the federal response to the economic fallout from the pandemic. The unemployment rate has reached historic highs this year, and many formerly incarcerated people say they are the last hired during an economic recovery and the first fired during a recession.
Additionally, advocates once feared that formerly incarcerated could be barred from receiving money under the government’s stimulus check scheme. While those fears have proven unfounded, the nonprofit says many people fresh out of prison still struggle to access federal funds.
An alphabet soup of donors has so far enabled the group, which opened a local office in November, to provide financial support to Bart and about 350 others in New Orleans. Each will receive up to $2,250 paid in 3 monthly installments, according to officials. Checks began going out to formerly incarcerated people in late April.
A plan is underway to buy a small lot of dilapidated homes along North Claiborne Avenue in the 8th Borough and convert them into living space for…
The CEO says he intentionally lowered the barriers to receiving the money. Referrals come from the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections or the city’s “triage team”. Participants are encouraged to meet modest goals, like creating a resume or budget, and are matched with reintegration organizations like Urban League, Total Community Action, First 72+, and Operation Restoration.
Bart says he spent his money on a security deposit, furniture, and bills. He has also been linked to First 72+.
Patience Lewis-Walker, the CEO’s southern regional director, said when the group began speaking with state and local leaders about the “stimulus” program, they were met with some skepticism.
Among the questions: “What’s the catch?” What do we have to do? Is it real?”
But the program has been approved by Gov. John Bel Edwards, Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services James LeBlanc and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
Governor John Bel Edwards on Thursday unveiled a $24 million fund to help Louisiana residents pay their rent, a measure aimed at limiting the economy…
In the long term, the group hopes the program, which is being researched into its effects, will convince governments to provide more help to people returning from prison.
After decades of high incarceration rates, Louisiana began reducing its prison population and reinvesting the savings into rehabilitation programs in 2017. But the state offers nothing resembling direct assistance.
Cash transfers have become increasingly fashionable in the world of philanthropy, and in the political sphere, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang popularized the idea of a universal basic income of $1,000 a month. Although his proposal may have seemed far-fetched at the time, some believe it was the precursor to the stimulus checks championed by President Donald Trump.
“We hope this could potentially be the norm, or at least an example of how we want to treat people returning from incarceration,” said New Orleans CEO Troy Glover. “What would it be like if people had additional resources and support?