Returning Citizens Stimulus Study


The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), which provides subsidized employment and other services to individuals who have recently returned home from incarceration, launched the Returning Citizens Stimulus (RCS) program in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It provided three monthly cash transfers to people who were recently released from incarceration in 28 cities across the United States to ease their transition into society at a time of social distress and high unemployment.

CEO launched the RCS program with an investment from the Justice and Mobility Fund, a collaboration of The Ford Foundation and Blue Meridian Partners with support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. CEO and 32 partner reentry organizations are implementing RCS in locations nationwide. The program leveraged CEO’s existing pay card system to deliver three monthly “stimulus” payments totaling at least $2,250 to individuals who participate in services designed to facilitate successful reentry.

In August 2020, CEO and local partner organizations expanded RCS in California to provide three monthly payments totaling $1,500 to an additional 1,000 citizens returning from incarceration under the Returning Home Well initiative, which provides housing, health care, treatment, transportation, direct assistance, and employment support for Californians returning home from prison.

MDRC is conducting a study of the RCS program in a subset of cities. Early results were released in September 2021.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

To qualify for the Returning Citizens Stimulus (RCS) program, clients at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) and the partner organizations must be: (1) recently released from incarceration, (2) 18 years old or older, and (3) unemployed or underemployed (working 20 hours or less per week). To enroll in RCS, eligible clients must complete various forms, including an intake form designed to collect demographic and contact information, a form authorizing CEO to open a pay card on clients’ behalf, a study consent form, and a W-9 form. The enrollment process is managed by reentry agency staff. CEO reviews and approves enrollment forms for all clients who apply to the program. CEO also issues all payments to program participants through a pay card system.

Upon enrolling in the program, RCS participants are issued a pay card and their first payment.  The second and third payments are issued 30 and 60 days later as long as clients meet specific milestones. The milestones are unique to each partner agency, but they must engage participants in employment services or programming that builds towards successful employment.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

MDRC is conducting an evaluation of the Returning Citizens Stimulus (RCS) program using a mixed-methods approach in a subset of selected cities, including Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Oakland. The evaluation is using surveys, program data from the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) and partner organizations, and in-depth interviews to assess outcomes over a period of approximately five months after each participant’s enrollment in the program. The evaluation will examine financial stability, overall well-being, interactions with the criminal justice system, and other outcomes for returning citizens who receive RCS payments. The evaluation team is seeking administrative data to allow for analysis of recidivism and/or employment outcomes.