Small businesses and formerly incarcerated citizens

Illinois businesses are struggling to hire qualified employees. This is significantly impacting their operations and making it more difficult for many small companies to recover from the pandemic.

The unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated individuals is excessive. The lack of opportunities afforded returning citizens contributes to high recidivism rates and undermines public safety.

Illinois also loses significant revenue when formerly incarcerated citizens are unable to procure employment and return to prison. Indeed, the costs associated with reincarceration rates are staggering.

State and local governments also fail to capture potential income and sales tax revenue when instead of becoming gainfully employed, individuals return to prison.

How can Illinois politicians create employment opportunities for previously incarcerated citizens and get them into the workforce? How can they support small businesses struggling to hire employees, save millions each year and create long-term revenue?

How can politicians provide formerly incarcerated individuals better opportunities to receive on-the-job training? How can they reduce crime and foster economic development in underserved communities? Politicians can pass legislation that incentivizes small businesses to train and hire formerly incarcerated employees.

Small business advocates and those dedicated to helping individuals extract themselves from the cycle of repeated incarceration have come together on an important bill. This legislation provides wage subsidies and grants to small businesses that hire formerly incarcerated Illinoisans.

This bill, which has a robust number of sponsors in the Illinois House, builds a bridge between the small business community and returning citizens. It can help small businesses provide on-the-job training to employees with prior convictions while supplementing their workforce.

This real-world training will provide formerly incarcerated individuals practical experience, often in new jobs or professions, that can benefit them for a lifetime.

This legislation not only provides small business owners the opportunity to hire new employees but also helps create a bond with these formerly incarcerated individuals. Small business owners that hire employees that have interacted with the criminal justice system often highlight their exceptional loyalty and work ethic.

The heartwarming stories told by business owners that hire returning citizens who become integral parts of the company, show how providing resources for small businesses to hire and train returning citizens can empower formerly incarcerated individuals, support small businesses and improve our economy.

As this session winds down in Springfield, Illinois politicians should prioritize this and other legislation that supports the small business community.

• Elliot Richardson is co-founder and president of the Small Business Advocacy Council.

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