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Minnesota launches grants to help ex-incarcerated reenter workforce

(The Center Square) – Minnesota will spend $3 million in fiscal years 2023-2024 to help Minnesotans who have served their prison sentences reenter the workforce, the state announced Friday.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said it received up to $10 million in First Step Initiative funding from the U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Justice to support formerly incarcerated individuals transition back to the community.

The department released a request for proposals for the new Pilot Re-Entry competitive grant program. The Minnesota Job Skills Partnership Board approved the funding.

Applicants can request up to $500,000 to help justice-involved Minnesotans obtain employment through one-on-one career counseling/case management, job search assistance, skills and on-the-job training, and other support services.

The programs must have a central or single point of contact strategy, involving at least one skilled “Navigator,” the RFP said. The navigator helps participants connect to existing resources to avoid duplicating resources. The navigator is the primary case manager for participants. That way, they have a consistent point of contact.

“Minnesota’s unemployment rate is the lowest in the nation and companies statewide are looking for qualified workers to fill open positions in numerous fields,” DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said in a statement. “Individuals transitioning back into the community after serving their time are ready to work. Companies with positions to fill have an opportunity to help these individuals improve their lives and the community while also ensuring enough workers are available to fill their needs. And this new federal funding will truly amplify our efforts to build back our economy and help improve safety by putting people to work in Minnesota.”

The grant program will serve Minnesota residents who haven’t had employment for at least 15 weeks in the last year and who either were or will be released within the past six months from “various correctional facilities” in Minnesota. Entities eligible for grants include state or local government units, nonprofit organizations, community action agencies, business organizations or associations, or labor organizations. Programs with strong employer partnerships will receive priority for funding.

“People coming out of prison must have what they need to live, become and stay employed, and be able to support themselves and their families,” Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Paul Schnell said in the release. “Over 95% of those who are in prison today will return to their families and communities. These new funding streams will play a critical role in helping ensure a successful transition for individuals who have served their time.”

State staff will provide an overview of the program in a webinar from 11 a.m. to noon Oct. 18.

Meeting number (access code): 2480 598 1341

Meeting password: N38vvy72xhi (63888972 from phones)

The webinar will be recorded and made available online afterward, the department said.

Proposals are due by 5 p.m. Nov. 22, and applicants can expect to hear back by the end of December.

Interim Communications Director Alicia Cordes-Mayo told The Center Square participants can come from any correctional facility as long as it’s in Minnesota.

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