Committee approves public funding for temporary staffing agency serving people recently released from prison

The Cuyahoga County Health, Human Services and Aging (HHSA) committee met on February 5, with a three-year contract between Cuyahoga County and Towards Employment (TE) on the agenda. The contract, worth $750,000, runs from February 2020 to February 2023.

The contract, worth $750,000, runs from February 2020 to February 2023.

TE is a nonprofit, headquartered in Downtown Cleveland, that specializes in economic and workforce development for individuals with barriers to employment, including those who have recently been released from prison, also called returning citizens. The contract would provide initial funding to create the Achieve Staffing Agency, a new job agency that would be specifically designed to connect returning citizens with temporary employment opportunities. Achieve is not considered a “program” of TE, according to the Director of Cuyahoga County Office of Re-Entry, Crystal Bryant, but rather a “social enterprise.” That means it operates similar to a business, generating revenue from its operations to support sustainability. She explained to committee members that the $750,000 would be comprised of $110,000 from a federal grant, and the balance would come from health and human services levy dollars. These dollars would serve as the initial funding needed by TE to set up the new agency.

Achieve is not considered a “program” of TE…but rather a “social enterprise.”

In addition to Bryant, the Executive Director of Towards Employment, Jill Rizika, answered specific questions from committee members about how TE would structure Achieve. Although Achieve would start with one person, Rizika said, TE envisions that Achieve will eventually employ three people by the end of the contract in 2023. Achieve will be a standalone nonprofit entity from Towards Employment, complete with its own Limited Liability Company designation. Rizika said that Towards Employment has already started receiving applications from people interested in serving as the inaugural General Manager of the new agency.

Often individuals who return back to the community from jail or prison, may not be able to find steady employment.

Bryant explained that often individuals who return back to the community from jail or prison, may not be able to find steady employment, so they turn to a temporary staffing agency to find short-term work. However, staffing agencies may not necessarily be familiar with the additional logistical hurdles that accompany a returning citizen (such as checking in with a parole officer, or barriers to transportation). The vision, according to Bryant, is to have an organization that can understand and work through those unique challenges, and connect returning citizens to employers who wish to hire them. The goal would also be to potentially open the door to longer term employment, and hopefully reduce the possibility of recidivism. The agency would work with individuals age 18 and older, and would have an initial goal of reaching and connecting 420 individuals to temporary job opportunities over the life of the contract. The agency would benefit from TE’s network of 300 businesses, and would be able to immediately start connecting individuals seeking temporary employment to job opportunities.

Councilmembers had many questions. Councilman Dale Miller asked how the HHS levy dollars would be used to fund the program. Bryant said that the money will come from HHS levy dollars that were already in the Office of Reentry’s budget for another program with the Court of Common Pleas that will now be funded by other sources. Miller also asked about the long-term funding model for the staffing agency. Rizika said that the model of a temporary-staffing agency specifically for returning citizens is based on a national business model that is successfully used in other cities. The funding for similar organizations in other cities comes from fees from employer who pay for the agency to find the temporary workers. The fees help fund the positions within the staffing agency. Councilwoman Cheryl Stephens asked if TE has developed a specific business plan for the new staffing agency, as opposed to talking about the generalities of a national business model. Such a business plan would include specifics such as how much money Achieve would have to make in order to break even, how outcomes would be measured, who pays the individuals (the employers, Achieve or TE, for example), startup costs, reserves for unforeseen costs, etc. Rizika said that TE has not yet fully developed the business plan for Achieve, as it is dependent on successfully receiving public startup dollars. Once that process is complete, she would be happy to share it with council. Councilwoman Shontel Brown asked if there are any tax credits associated with hiring returning citizens. Rizika said that there is a federal tax credit that employers can receive for directly hiring returning citizens.

Chairwoman Yvonne Conwell asked Rizika to come back to the committee and provide an update in February 2021.

Chairwoman Yvonne Conwell asked Rizika to come back to the committee and provide an update in February 2021. Rizika said that she would be happy to do that. Miller made a motion that the contract be forwarded to the full council under second reading suspension, meaning that it does not have to go through the traditional three readings. The contract was seconded and unanimously passed.

The meeting was then adjourned.