$24 Million Returning Citizens Stimulus from Center for Employment Opportunities Benefits Thousands Released From Prisons and Jails During COVID-19


Bari Samad | [email protected]; (347) 266-7461


September 29, 2021

New report shows that the largest-ever privately funded cash transfer program for the formerly incarcerated provided much needed financial relief to over 10,000 people

New York, NY -- September 29, 2021 - Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO)—a national nonprofit organization that provides immediate, effective, and comprehensive employment services exclusively to people recently released from incarceration—today announced the release of a new report evaluating its Returning Citizens Stimulus (RCS) cash assistance program. CEO conceived and implemented the program as an emergency response to support returning citizens during a pandemic that disproportionately impacted Black and brown communities.

With over $24M already distributed to more than 10,000 people, RCS is the largest-ever privately funded cash transfer program specifically for formerly incarcerated individuals. CEO partnered with a network of 32 reentry organizations to operate the program in 28 cities across the United States. RCS participants received two or three payments averaging a total of $2,256 and up to $2,750 in higher cost of living cities.

“RCS is designed to provide immediate financial support and direct access to structured, local community support services for returning citizens facing tremendous barriers during reentry,” said Sam Schaeffer, Chief Executive Officer of CEO. “The MDRC study demonstrates that cash assistance and reentry services have strong potential to improve economic mobility outcomes. CEO is actively furthering RCS in a post-pandemic context to advance decarceration efforts through early release, advanced parole, and initiatives such as prosecutor-initiated resentencing in California.”

The report—published by MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization—notes that the majority of RCS recipients surveyed for the study reported feeling a sense of financial stability and used the cash payments to cover essential expenses such as rent, groceries, and clothing, to reconnect with family members, and on personal care to prepare themselves for employment.

Notably, participants said RCS helped them find, secure, and maintain employment, partly because it was connected to existing reentry employment programs and partly because it gave them money to prepare for working.

“If I had not had the money, I would not have been able to have steady employment at a crucial time,” said Scott, an RCS recipient released from prison during the pandemic. “The RCS cash assistance gave me confidence and provided for those things that public aid could not predict, and does not provide for. I was able to get insurance on a jeep a friend loaned me so that I could go to work. Because of my reliability, work ethic, and production, the company I was working for temporarily, hired me full-time and a few months later, gave me a raise. I am now working remotely as a mortgage underwriter.”


RCS provides immediate financial support to people returning from incarceration and creates long-term engagements between returning citizens and reentry service providers. CEO believes that evaluations of programs such as RCS, create an evidence base for making cash assistance an integral and sustainable part of reentry pathways.

CEO launched the RCS program with an investment from the Justice and Mobility Fund, a collaboration of The Ford Foundation and Blue Meridian Partners with support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and other philanthropic sources. The investors are committed to improving the social and economic mobility of those exiting the criminal legal system.

“We at Blue Meridian Partners, together with our Justice and Mobility Fund co-sponsors at the Ford Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, believed that the Returning Citizens Stimulus program would enable the Center for Employment Opportunities and partners to deliver an immediate, direct, and urgently needed benefit to people returning from incarceration in the midst of a devastating and destabilizing pandemic,” said Jim Shelton, Blue Meridian Partners’ chief investment and impact officer. “What these study findings reveal is just how powerful an impact direct cash transfers had in empowering returnees to secure the resources they needed to re-enter their communities on solid footing and access pathways to employment. We’re excited about the future potential of such efforts to boost the economic mobility of people exiting the justice system.”

RCS was offered as emergency financial aid in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even in good economic times, the first days and months after release from incarceration represent a challenging time for returning citizens. They often have few financial resources and face insurmountable barriers. By addressing immediate financial needs, cash transfers could help returning citizens focus on longer-term employment goals and encourage them to access and participate in critical reentry services.

Find out more about CEO’s Returning Citizens Stimulus program here.


Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) provides immediate, effective, and comprehensive employment services exclusively to people recently released from incarceration. CEO currently operates in over 30 cities and is dedicated to ensuring that justice-impacted job seekers have opportunities to achieve social and economic mobility. For more information please visit: https://ceoworks.org and follow @ceoworks on Twitter.