For the more than 70 million adults in the United States with arrest and/or conviction records, unemployment rates have long surpassed Great Depression levels, and are estimated to be nearly five times higher than for other workers nationally. On top of the challenges posed by the current pandemic and unemployment crisis, people with records face multiple structural barriers, including racialized segregation and exclusion in housing, education, health care access, voting access, banking, occupational licensing, and employment.
More must be done to ensure that those released prior to and during the pandemic are not only included in recovery efforts but prioritized. As workplaces continue to close in response to the pandemic, workers with records need access to direct cash funds, safe housing, and medical services. Workers with records who have maintained employment as frontline workers in the crisis need targeted supports, including basics like health and safety protection, the right to refuse unsafe work, and unemployment insurance.
More must be done to ensure that those released prior to and during the pandemic are not only included in recovery efforts but prioritized.
Ultimately, any pandemic recovery plan, federal or otherwise, that does not prioritize the experiences and needs of workers with records and incarcerated people is no recovery plan at all—not from the perspective of economic health, public health, or racial equity.
On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law. It is intended to provide rapid-response emergency benefits to individuals, small businesses, large corporations, local and state governments, and public health programs. This living document will be updated with any policy changes and is intended to address frequently asked questions regarding working during the pandemic with an arrest and/or conviction record, with a focus on accessing CARES Act programs.