Portman Op-Ed in the Sandusky Register: Break the Prison Cycle

May 10, 2021 | Portman Difference

In a recent op-ed for the Sandusky Register, Senator Portman reflected on the progress we have made as a nation in helping formerly incarcerated Americans get a second chance and achieve their God-given potential in life. Portman, who has long been a leader in working to pass bipartisan reentry legislation, pointed to the successes of bills like his Second Chance Act, which provides federal funding for proven reentry programs across the country to help more Americans get back on their feet. In all, since 2009, more than 800 Second Chance Act grants have been awarded, and last year Senator Portman worked to secure a record $100 million in funding for grants this fiscal year.

Senator Portman discussed how his work has continued despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, when he learned the Paycheck Protection Program that was created under the CARES Act excluded small business owners with unrelated felony records from receiving these invaluable loans, Portman worked with the Department of the Treasury to change the rules and expand PPP access to second chance small business owners.

Portman also highlighted new reentry legislation he introduced today the bipartisan Reentry Employment Opportunities Act that will make permanent the Labor Department’s Reentry Employment Opportunities grant program, which currently exists as a pilot program set to expire next year. Portman believes this program should continue to provide invaluable skills training to help returning citizens get good-paying jobs and stability to break the cycle of recidivism.

Excerpts of the op-ed can be found below and the full op-ed can be found here.

Break the Prison Cycle
By U.S. Senator Rob Portman
The Sandusky Register

Spring is a time of new beginnings, so it is a fitting time to hold up those who have started new lives of meaning and purpose after being convicted of a crime and serving their time.

Helping formerly incarcerated individuals overcome their past mistakes and reenter society as productive citizens makes sense for everyone: those formerly incarcerated and their families, neighbors who will live in safer communities, law enforcement and the taxpayer.

As a country, we have come a long way on this issue over the past decade or so. More than 10 years ago, I co-authored bipartisan legislation called the Second Chance Act, which helps people get back on their feet through supporting state and local reentry programs. A few years ago, I joined my colleague, Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont to renew and strengthen the Second Chance Act as part of the First Step Act, including adding nonprofit organizations as eligible grant recipients and requiring rigorous audits to ensure that federal dollars are spent wisely.

Since 2009, more than 800 Second Chance Act grant awards have been made, and last year we secured $100 million in funding — a record. I have seen the results of the Second Chance Act firsthand at reentry programs across Ohio, including great northwest Ohio nonprofits like Goodwill Industries in Toledo. Recently, we had a great dialogue with the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and Ron and Cathy Tijerina from the RIDGE Project about how the program has helped them support Second Chance families in Northwest Ohio.

Looking ahead, there is still more work for us to do to reduce recidivism rates and allow all Americans to overcome their past mistakes.

Right now, I am working to pass bipartisan legislation called the Reentry Employment Opportunities Act to do just that. Along with my colleague, Democrat Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, I introduced this legislation to make permanent the Labor Department’s Reentry Employment Opportunities grant program, which currently exists as a pilot program authorized under Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The REO program supports national, regional, and local skills training organizations that provide outstanding opportunities for returning citizens to get skills that will help them find both good-paying jobs and the stability and purpose that comes from a career.

The REO program has been successful, but right now it does not have a dedicated funding stream to support its important mission. I believe it’s critical we make the REO program permanent so that more folks reentering society after time in the justice system can get the helping hand they need to enter the workforce and break the cycle of recidivism. I will continue to work in Washington to get this important legislation passed.

I’m proud to be a partner in Washington for Ohioans and all Americans looking to get a Second Chance, turn their lives around, and achieve their God-given potential.