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Sweeney-Cunningham Bill Would Aid in Reentry of Formers Offenders

Trenton – Acting to address one of the most challenging barriers to the successful reentry into society of former offenders that are more acute during the coronavirus crisis, the Senate today approved legislation authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Sandra Cunningham that would assist inmates in obtaining needed services when they are released from incarceration.

The bill, S-2331, would aid in obtaining food stamps, cash assistance and temporary emergency housing under the state’s general assistance program, and Medicaid services, including treatment for behavioral health services such as addiction treatment, and mental health care. The legislation emphasizes the importance of arranging benefits in advance of the inmates’ release.

“If we want to give former offenders a fair opportunity at a second chance we have to help address the obstacles to their successful reentry into society,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “The obstacles they encounter are even greater during the public health crisis we are now experiencing. There are effective actions we can take to provide basic services that can make a real difference in the lives of men and women who are returning to their families and communities as productive members of society.”

“This bill will help to address the significant obstacles faced by state and county inmates in obtaining what can be life-sustaining benefits when they are released from incarceration, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “One of the biggest barriers facing the reentry community upon release is lack of photo identification, which is needed to apply for food stamps, general assistance, or Medicaid.”

To ensure that there is no delay in acquiring necessary food, shelter, and medical services, corrections officials would be required to complete on behalf of inmates, applications for enrollment in social service programs, including food stamps, general assistance and Medicaid. The bill would require that applications for services be processed and submitted to the appropriate agency while the individual is incarcerated, eliminating delays caused by lack of photo ID and lag time while the application is pending approval.

The bill would also require county facilities to issue identification cards, matching the current requirement for state inmates, and that state and county facilities issue the IDs free of charge. It would also require that individuals be given a 90-day supply of prescription medication upon release and that social services organizations are notified in advance to help arrange reentry services upon release.

Senator Cunningham stressed the importance of pre-enrollment in Medicaid so the coverage takes effect when inmates are released, and the value of treatment for substance abuse disorders, including “medication-assisted treatment,” which has proven to be highly effective.

“Access to health care services is a significant problem for former offenders,” said Senator Sweeney. “Knowing where to go to continue care can be challenging and navigating the healthcare system is difficult. Doing all we can to make sure our returning citizens are enrolled in Medicaid before they’re released will make a real difference.”