NYCETC’s Member Spotlight series – which introduces our readers to the wide variety of workforce programs and services that our members offer across the five boroughs – is shifting to highlight the ways in which organizations have shifted their services to best support their clients and communities during the COVID pandemic and within the post-COVID economy. This week we focus on the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO).

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This spring Ronald worked on CEO’s transitional work crew sanitizing New York City Housing Authority properties to keep residents safe. “I’ve worked for all of COVID and have been financially stable.” Alongside his CEO wages, his RCS payments allowed him to keep up with expenses and long-term savings. With the support of CEO, he recently landed a full-time job. “For people coming home,” Ronald told us, “the program gives independence.”


The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) serves job seekers with criminal convictions, especially persons who have been released from incarceration recently, who are 18+ and on parole or probation in New York City, as well as 31 other cities in 11 states. CEO’s four phase model provides both office based vocational job coaching, job placement and support services as well as paid transitional employment, which enables individuals to develop work experience and earn wages and bolsters their ability to secure unsubsidized full time work.

Given the economic fallout from COVID, CEO has been seeing participants remaining longer on its transitional work crews, while those that had a job are losing work and returning to CEO for assistance. CEO’s team transitioned all services to a virtual format and, other than a two week pause in April, its transitional work crews continued to operate throughout the pandemic, providing services to its government agency customers. CEO’s crews are deemed essential workers by New York State and the New York City Housing Authority, and operate at reduced capacity to promote social distancing and with needed PPE. CEO work crews have been providing maintenance and sanitizing services in NYC courts and NYCHA facilities, and the income earned by participants has been a lifeline for their families.

In response to the pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, this April CEO launched the Returning Citizens Stimulus (RCS), a nation-wide initiative that is disbursing up to $2,750 in cash assistance to more than 7,000 individuals recently released from incarceration. This $23M+ initiative leverages CEO’s pay card system to transfer three “stimulus” payments to individuals while also connecting them to essential reentry supports.

“Prisons and jails have been COVID hotspots throughout the pandemic. The overcrowding and dehumanizing conditions of prisons and jails are not only emblematic of how mass incarceration fails as a public safety policy – it reveals glaring health disparities and risks to public health that are driving COVID infections particularly in communities of color,” said Christopher Watler, Chief External Affairs Officer at CEO and NYCETC Board member. “CEO is using the RCS initiative to encourage states and cities to release more individuals from unnecessary incarceration, address the collatorial consequence that inhibit social reintegration post-release and to promote investments in community based reentry services. Research tells us that de-incarceration and effective community based reentry services improve public safety and are cost effective – and are critical to stopping the spread of COVID.”

CEO is using the RCS payments to help Returning Citizens stay connected to local reentry service providers who are helping them find employment, access housing and address their health needs. In New York City, CEO is collaborating with the Osborne Association, Fortune Society, CASES, Exodus Transitional Services, and the Center for Community Alternatives. Through August 13, 2020, 1,118 NYC Returning Citizens have been enrolled and have received payments totaling 2.2 million dollars.

RCS is made possible nationally through the support of the Justice and Mobility Fund, a collaboration launched by The Ford Foundation and Blue Meridian Partners with support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation; and a generous grant from the Robin Hood Foundation to support RCS in NYC. Learn more about the Returning Citizens Stimulus initiative here or email communications@ceoworks.org.


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