Many ex-felons leave prison wondering what their lives will be like on the outside. They are aware that finding employment will not be easy. Thankfully, for those who have a desire to create their own employment opportunities there are a number of government grants for felons for which they may qualify. Some government agencies that offer felon grants make it easy by allowing you to apply online.
The US Department of Labor in 2012 announced that it was making $20.5 million in grant funding (http://www.loop21.com/politics/obama-administration-20-million-ex-felon-grants) available to aid in providing employment opportunities for ex-prisoners. This is done through the Reintegration of ex-Offenders program. Section 171 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (https://www.cfda.gov/?s=program&mode=form&tab=step1&id=d69e451fa19934ebad489717f68f3b27) allows for funding to develop programs for job training, mentoring, basic skills training and other services to aid youths and young offenders in getting back into the workforce. To benefit from the program, you have to be at least 18 years old and sentenced as an adult. The crime you were imprisoned for must be one that violated state and or federal laws, and like many similar programs, sex-offenders cannot benefit. The program does not offer direct employment.
Small Business Grants for Felons
The Houston-based Prison Entrepreneurship Program (http://www.prisonentrepreneurship.org/who/) helps to connect ex-prisons with sources of funding to start or develop businesses. The non-profit also provides training opportunities and mentoring for former prisoners. Some church-based organizations also assist ex-prisoners with small grants for starting a business as well as providing business guidance and mentoring programs.
Angel Investors/Informal Investor
Some felons will also be able to convince business investors to give them a chance to prove that they can start and run a successful business. It may be somewhat difficult for an ex-felon to find angel investors, but some people and businesses will take a chance if you sell your idea and yourself well. Similar to angel investors, some family members and even friends will assist with loans to help you start a business to get back into mainstream society. The Small Business Association (http://www.sba.gov/) may also be able to help you get a small loan to start a freelance business such as plumbing or landscaping. It may be more difficult as a former prisoner to obtain a loan, however, the SBA states that it does not discriminate so it is worth a try.
The Second Chance Act (https://www.bja.gov/ProgramDetails.aspx?Program_ID=90 ) is meant to help prevent ex-offenders from going back behind bars by offering various services such as job advice and mentoring. Each state has different programs in place, so check the Bureau of Justice Assistance for more information on how you can benefit under this program.
The National Re-Entry Resource Center (http://nationalreentryresourcecenter.com/) is another source of information for felons who need help and guidance when they are released from prison. The Grants.gov (http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/search-grants.html) website is also worth exploring for opportunities.
What to Do When Applying for a Grant or Small Business Loan
To improve your chances when applying for any type of grant, you should have certain things in place. While you may not need everything, it makes sense to keep the following in mind:
- Ensure that you understand the application process
- Have your paperwork ready, this includes identification papers, proof of address etc.
- If you are applying for a business loan, have a clear outline of what it is you plan to do. If possible have a business plan ready
- Proof of tax returns
The internet is also a good source of information on government grants for ex-felons. Searching online will provide links to forums and websites with information that can help ex-prisoners. One website that is popular among ex-prisoners and their family members is prison talk (http://www.prisontalk.com/forums/links/0).
Since it is difficult for some ex-felons to access small business loans and grants, they can also consider educational grants. With these grants, they can get training in certain fields that will help them start their own business.
For many ex-prisoners, the best options available for self-sustainability are through self-employment. The Federal Pell Grants (http://studentaid.ed.gov/eligibility/criminal-convictions#incarcerated) are among the easiest available grants to get for educational purposes, unless you are a drug addict. SCORE (http://www.score.org/onlineworkshops/tab-a) is also another means of gaining information to help start and run a successful business through their free webinars.
Their mentorship program is also very useful as a means of business support and guidance. Best of all, SCORE’s mentorship program also includes face-to-face interaction.
While it can be difficult, ex-felons may also apply for grants that are not specifically designed for them. It may be difficult to get some of these grants, but it is not impossible. Many agencies will look beyond your criminal past and give you the grant to help you make a new start in life.
For anyone who successfully applied for and received any business grants for felons, it makes sense to talk to a lawyer or accountant for advice. Talking to other business owners is another good way to get information on how to be successful.