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Bread for the World welcomes the anti-hunger and anti-poverty initiatives included in the Senate’s proposed Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act of 2015 (REDEEM Act).
The bipartisan bill allows those convicted of nonviolent crimes to ask the courts to seal their criminal records. They could then present themselves, according to the legal system, as lacking a criminal background. These measures would improve their chances of getting a job and, in turn, reduce the threat of hunger or recidivism.
“The REDEEM Act is a crucial step in allowing formerly incarcerated people the opportunity to rebuild their lives,” said Eric Mitchell, Bread’s director of government relations. “People who have spent time in prison are more likely to face unemployment and often face discrimination. They are thus less likely to have the resources to their families”.
Previously incarcerated people tend to earn less than average wages due, in large part, to their criminal history. Studies show that a prison record cuts wages for workers by 11 percent, cuts annual employment by nine weeks, and reduces yearly earnings by 40 percent.
Current laws permanently ban people with felony drug convictions from participating in such programs as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps). Although some states have limited these bans, the REDEEM Act will lift these bans.
“We pray that our leaders would treat those who have served their time in prison as they would like to be treated, to give them the opportunities they would want in order to rebuild their lives,” said Mitchell. “The REDEEM Act provides a pathway to alleviate and eventually end hunger for some of the most vulnerable in our society.”
Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the bill in the Senate early this week.
Hunger and food insecurity add at least $160 billion a year to U.S. healthcare costs.
Mass incarceration has far-reaching effects in the United States. It poses a significant barrier to ending U.S. hunger and poverty by 2030—a goal the United States adopted in 2015. But the connection is not always obvious.
The United States has long been a global leader in responding to humanitarian emergencies. Food assistance that includes nutritious food for pregnant women and young children is both a life-and-death matter for individuals and an economic imperative for countries.
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