Portman, Peters Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen Reentry Opportunities Through Skills Trainings & Apprenticeships

May 10, 2021 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Gary Peters (D-MI) today announced that they reintroduced bipartisan legislation that strengthens reentry programs that provide workforce training, pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship. The Reentry Employment Opportunities Act would codify into law the U.S. Department of Labor’s Reentry Employment Opportunities (REO) Program, which supports national, regional and local organizations that administer skills training programs. The REO program provides critical opportunities for returning citizens to be able to have a smooth transition back into society, and learn skills that will help them secure good jobs. U.S. Representatives Danny K. Davis (D-IL) and Bill Johnson (R-OH) will reintroduce companion legislation in the House tomorrow.

“Providing reentry support services to vulnerable youth and young adults at risk of recidivism is vital to ensuring we give them a second chance at living up to their God-given potential,” said Senator Portman. “I am proud to re-introduce the Reentry Employment Opportunities Act with Senator Peters, which authorizes this important grant program that has already shown success as a pilot program at the Department of Labor. I am also proud to be working on this important effort with Congressmen Danny Davis and Bill Johnson, who are introducing companion legislation in the House. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation builds on my previous work to ensure that those re-entering society have access to the skills training and jobs necessary to contribute to their communities.”

“For too long, men and women who have paid their debt to society have been denied chances to secure stable employment and begin a new chapter in their lives,” said Senator Peters. “This systemic injustice must be addressed, and the Reentry Employment Opportunities Act would strengthen existing skills training and apprenticeship programs to help give returning citizens in Michigan and across the country — who have served their time — a second chance. I am proud to partner with Senator Portman on this commonsense, bipartisan effort, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance this legislation.” 

“Congress acted by passing the FIRST STEP Act in 2018, and now there is bipartisan momentum to codify the Reentry Employment Opportunities (REO) Program, all designed to help those released from prison regain their dignity with a job and get their lives back on the right track,” said Representative Johnson. “I am proud to author legislation to do just that, along with my colleague Rep. Danny Davis. Fact: Most prisoners in our justice system will someday be released once their debt to society has been paid.  But, for some the transition isn’t easy. We can help stop the vicious revolving door cycle of being “in-out-then back into” prison by giving inmates tools like employment training to become productive, contributing members of society. With our current shortage of skilled workers, we can also help prospective employers find the qualified workers they need. This program reduces recidivism and provides hope for many who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law, and I’m hopeful this commonsense bipartisan bill will gain the support it deserves in the House.”

The bill has been endorsed by the National Action Network, the National Youth Employment Coalition, #Cut50 and the Center for Law and Social Policy.

“Rights4Girls is grateful to Senators Peter and Portman for their leadership in introducing the Reentry Employment Opportunities Act today,” said Yasmin Vafa, Executive Director, Rights4Girls. “This important legislation represents a key bipartisan effort to assist marginalized youth in acquiring necessary skills and job opportunities to support their wellbeing and help them successfully return to their communities.”

“People who have been involved in the criminal legal system deserve second chances, and the REO Act would provide these through access to workforce development and career pathway jobs while providing employers access to the skilled workers they need,” said Victor Dickinson, President and CEO, Safer Foundation. “The bill also would help address the disproportionate impact that the criminal legal system has had on Black people and people of color by providing more equitable economic opportunity during this vital period of national recovery. The Act embodies the core essence of violence reduction and holistic reentry.”

“Youth with justice involvement face higher rates of trauma, violence, and lack of social capital, all of which contributes to lower rates of employment,” said Thomas Showalter, Senior Advisor, National Youth Employment Coalition. “We owe these young people a chance to get a foothold in the labor market. The legislation led by Senator Peters and Senator Portman makes this goal possible.”

“Due to systemic discrimination and underinvestment, youth and adults impacted by the criminal justice system face nearly insurmountable barriers to finding quality employment, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Olivia Golden, Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). “The Reentry Employment Opportunities (REO) program is a critical investment in helping people connect to career pathways. CLASP is proud to endorse this legislation and will continue advocating to ensure that funding for historically oppressed communities remains a priority as we Build Back Better.”

Currently, the REO program exists as a pilot program authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The First Step Act reauthorized the REO program when it was signed into law in 2018. However, because it currently exists as a pilot program, it does not have a dedicated funding stream and is funded through a piecemeal approach. This bipartisan bill would codify into law the REO program and provide it greater stability for the future.