The Shift Back to Society Act
Since coming to Congress, one of my top priorities has been working with groups and individuals in Arkansas who are committed to empowering all members of our community, particularly those living in poverty or all its consequences. These interactions led to the creation of the Community Empowerment Initiative (CEI) in June 2015. Over the course of the last year and a half, I held seven roundtables with over fifty groups representing small businesses, non-profits, churches, schools, and think tanks in our area. Having these small, intimate brainstorming sessions has provided a unique opportunity for our local community leaders to be more involved in our federal priorities while keeping me informed on how to best assist and promote the success of these local programs.
Congress has taken numerous steps intended to reduce U.S. poverty rates, but these have not had the desired long-term effects—largely because an undue focus has been placed on welfare reform rather than on the identification of the underlying causes of poverty. The CEI recognizes the need to better supplement current policy with more community engagement in the revitalization of our Nation’s most embattled neighborhoods, and exemplifies the principles of stewardship, subsidiarity, and collaboration when seeking solutions. I believe that this collaboration is best harnessed first at family and civic/charitable levels, so local and state governments can then produce solutions close to voters and to the challenges at hand.
Continuing the Community Empowerment Initiative will remain a focus for me in the 115th Congress, with one key goal of making the CEI a national initiative. Working with my colleagues in Congress – including Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (NC-06), and many of my Democratic friends in Congress, like my Co-Chair of the Congressional Skilled American Workforce Caucus Rep. Brenda Lawrence (MI-14) – we will encourage other members to build off the successes of our local programs and install similar programs in their districts.
Every month, I plan to update Arkansans on the happenings of the CEI and the work being done in Congress to address poverty in our most underserved areas. One of my proposals to further this cause has been the introduction of The Shift Back to Society Act, which would help those who have been incarcerated transition back into society and find meaningful employment. The bill would establish a pilot program to provide grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to implement educational programs for eligible offenders and help them successfully transition back into their communities.
Cosponsors of the bill include Congressman Cedric Richmond (LA-02), Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (NC-06), Congressman Bruce Westerman (AR-04), and Congresswoman Mia Love (UT-04).
Like all of our CEI issues, this one transcends partisan boundaries. The United States currently spends $34,000 per year per inmate: a tab that is picked up by the taxpayer, and a number that is greatly affected by reoffenders. Addressing the problem of recidivism by encouraging hard work and opening up opportunities that can lead to employment benefits all of us. Any American in good standing with the law, regardless of previous offenses, deserves the opportunity to improve their own lives through the dignity of a job, while playing a role in the betterment of our society as a whole.